A-Z of Saints: X, Y and Z

Unsurprisingly, saints whose names begin with the letters X, Y or Z are few and far between, and fewer still have made any significant impact on the public consciousness.

Here, then, is a quick rundown of some of the more notable ones…


St Xanthippe/Xantippa (died late 1st century)
An alleged disciple of Paul who died in Spain; her devotions were frustrated by her husband who locked her up and threw Paul out, but she prayed he would fall asleep and bribed the porter to release her.
Memorial day: 23 September

St Frances Xavier (1850-1917)
A Basque nobleman, he embarked on an academic career but was persuaded by St Ignatius of Loyola to spread the Gospel, and became the first Jesuit missionary. He is said to have baptized more than 40,000 people in India, Japan and the East Indies.
Memorial day: 3 December
Patronage: missionaries

Sts Thomas Xico and Peter Xukexico (d.1597)
These were two of the 26 ‘Nagasaki Martyrs’, a group of missionaries and their converts in japan who had an ear cut off and were then crucified for refusing to renounce their faith. Xico was a pharmacist with an angry nature, calmed on becoming a Franciscan; Xukexico was arrested for ministering to other imprisoned Christians.
Memorial: 6 February


St Yriex (c.510-591)
Perhaps the most unpronouneable saint, also known more conveniently as Aredius – he was a Frenchman converted after a dissolute youth, and a dove hovered above his head for 30 days. Several regions of France are named after him.
Memorial day: 25 August

St Yves of Kermartin (1253-1303)
This Breton nobleman became a lawyer noted for defending the poor free of charge, also known for his asceticism. In later life he became a preacher and founded a hospital. He was also said to have performed a miracle by feeding hundreds with a loaf of bread.
Memorial day: 19 May
Patronage: lawyers and judges

St Joseph Yuen (1765-1817)
A Vietnamese priest, Yuen was imprisoned for a year and then murdered by strangulation. He is one of the ‘Martyrs of China’ canonized by Pope John Paul II.
Memorial day: 24 June (28 September as a Martyr of China)


St Anthony Zaccaria (1502-1539)
Legends say that angels attended the altar at Italian nobleman Zaccaria’s first mass. He was a doctor and moral reformer. He died of natural causes, shortly after receiving a vision of St Paul.
Memorial day: 5 July

St Zenobius (d.417)
Zenobius was a Florentine pagan baptized as an adult, who went on to become Bishop of Florence. He is known for many miracles, including bringing five people back to life after they had died. The tower in the city where he is said to have lived is still decorated with flowers each year.
Memorial day: 25 May

St Zita (1218-1272)
Zita was from Lucca, Italy, and became a domestic servant at the age of 12, which she remained until her death. She often gave her own or her master’s food to the poor.
Memorial day: 27 April
Patronage: housemaids, lost keys, waiters and waitresses.

A-Z of Saints: Winifred

St Winifred (or Winifride, Gwenfrewi, Guinevere, etc…) was born in Holywell, Flintshire in Wales some time around 600AD.

She was the daughter of a Welsh nobleman, known with equal multiplicity as Thevit, Trevith or Tyfid ap Eiludd, and his wife Wenlo, a sister of St Beuno.

Details of her life are inevitably vague after all these centuries, and mainly derive from two manuscripts, one the work of a monk called Elerius (St Elwy), said to be her contemporary, and the other being a 12th century account by the prior of Shrewsbury.

With a saint for an uncle, it is perhaps no surprise that Winifred fell under his influence, and at the age of 15 would listen to him preaching in a hollow nearby.

She soon gave herself to a life of devotion, with her parents’ consent, and was renowned for both her virtue and her learning.


Being beautiful as well as smart, Winifred was known in the area and soon caught the attention of Caradoc of Hawarden, a chieftain and son of a prince, who resolved to take her as his wife.

The story runs that he found her alone one day and pressed his suit, with her chaste refusal only serving to fuel his ardour. Eventually this turned into threats, and she fled to church.

Caradoc’s inflamed state persisted, and driven mad by his frustration he drew his sword and killed her by slicing off her head. One story tells that her head then rolled down the hill they were on and a spring sprang forth where it came to a rest.

Meanwhile news had got out and St Beuno brought her head back to her body and covered them with a cloak – when he removed it, she was restored to life, albeit with a ring mark round her neck.

Meanwhile Beuno cursed Caradoc, who was swallowed up by the earth. (The real Caradoc apparently was killed in revenge by her brother Owain, suggesting that these events may have had some basis in fact.)


Winifred is then said to have lived on in poverty and chastity, becoming abbess of a convent built on her father’s land; the spring meanwhile became a sacred well, where a chapel was built.

Winifred remained there until the death of Beuno, and went on her own pilgrimage into the mountains around Snowdon. At Gwytherin she met Elerius, and eventually became abbess, performing further miracles until her death some time around 660.

Winifred’s relics were taken to Shrewsbury, where a shrine lasted until Henry VIII’s time (it is featured in Ellis Peters’ Cadfael novel, A Morbid Taste for Bones); other relics went to Rome and were returned to Holywell and Shrewsbury in the 19th century.

Her well was a place of pilgrimage and said to have healed people of leprosy and other conditions.

Winifred is remembered on 3 November and is patron of incest victims and Shrewsbury.

Another well is named after her near Oswestry, said to have sprung up when her body rested there on the way to interment. Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote an unfinished play called St Winifred’s Well.

Other ‘W’ saints

  • St Wilfred of York (or Ripon) – 634-709 – was son of a Northumbrian nobleman. He was nearly killed by pagans in Sussex and later returned to convert many of them, and found Selsey Abbey. His memorial day is 12 October.
  • St Wenceslaus is the king of Bohemia remembered by the Christmas carol and was murdered by his brother Boleslaus at the door of a church in 929. He is remembered on 28 September and is patron of brewers as well as the Czech Republic.

A-Z of Saints: Vitus

Mention St Vitus today and one word alone comes to mind: dance. Living a life which came to a short and nasty end, however, the saint himself had little time for dancing, and that was left to his followers centuries later.

Not a great deal is recorded about this early saint other than legend. He is said to have been born in the late second century in Sicily around 291, the son of a pagan senator called Hylas.

According to different accounts, he was either seven or twelve when his tutor Modestus and nurse Crescentia converted him to Christianity – at a time when the emperor Diocletian was persecuting Christians ruthlessly.

Vitus’ story is a classic one of father-and-son strife. Perhaps keen to appease the administration, his father sought to nip Vitus’ conversion in the bud, and resorted first to kindness and then to scourging the boy and his companions in an attempt to make them return to paganism – to no avail.


One story even says that the soldiers commanded to torture Vitus had their hands miraculously lamed. The trio fled by boat to Lucania (southern Italy) and from there, ironically, Vitus was taken to Rome to help drive out a demon from Diocletian’s son – suggesting he had some reputation for this skill.

At Rome, Vitus duly healed the emperor’s son, but because of his refusal to sacrifice to the pagan gods afterwards, he and his companions were again tortured.

The enraged Diocletian had them thrown to the lions, but the animals are said to have cowered at their feet. The emperor’s next move was to throw them into boiling oil – some accounts say this brought their death, but others say they prayed and remained unharmed, but ultimately died on the rack.

At the moment they died, a storm is said to have destroyed a number of pagan temples. The year was 303.

Another account says that Vitus and his friends survived Diocletian’s tortures and were take back to Lucania by an angel before they died, though this appears to be a conflation with the death of three other martyrs in that area.

Either way, veneration of them spread across the region, with miracles attributed to them. A shrine to him in Rome is known to have existed in the 5th century, one in France in the 8th, and his relics were taken to Germany in the 9th, where veneration spread through Westphalia.


It is in Germany that the tales of St Vitus dance began, too: in the 16th century, people danced before his statue on his feast day of 15 June so enthusiastically that for some it became a mania.

Today the name St Vitus’ dance is associated both with epilepsy and the nervous disorder chorea. It is also in Germany that Vitus became known as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers – see the previous article on this series about St Pantaleon.

Vitus’ symbol is the rooster, a poor creature apparently thrown into the boiling oil with him as a sacrifice; by extension, he has become the patron against oversleeping. Vitus is also patron of actors and comedians, against storms and dog bites, of the Czech Republic (St Vitus’ Cathedral is in Prague), and of course of dancing.

Other ‘V’ Saints

  • St Valentine (d269) was a priest and physician in Rome who was beaten and beheaded – a far cry from the celebrations of love his name is remembered for, which are believed to stem from a Christianisation of a Roman fertility festival in February. As well as lovers, he is patron of beekeepers and against fainting.
  • St Veronica is only known for one thing: wiping Christ’s face with a cloth as he fell on the way to Golgotha. The cloth was supposedly imprinted with his image, and many mediaeval cloths were claimed to be the original relic. Her feast is 12 July and she is patron of laundry workers and photographers.

A-Z of Saints: Ursula

The history of St Ursula, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “rests on ten lines, and these are open to question” – but the subsequent legend “would fill more than a hundred pages”.

The ten lines in question form a Latin inscription in stone, attributed to Clematius and still existing today in the choir of the Church of St Ursula at Cologne in Germany.

Experts have declared that the stone dates back to the fourth or fifth century. The interpretation of the inscription has been much debated, but tells at least of the nobleman Clematius’ rebuilding of a ruined basilica on his own land in the city of Cologne, and he did so because he was prompted by visions to honour a number of virgins who has been martyred there.


The inscription entirely fails to name, date or number these poor souls, however, and Ursula herself only appears in documents dating from five centuries later.

Those later documents mention varying numbers of ‘virgins of Cologne’, from five to eight to eleven. Another document names them in the thousands, and days they were persecuted by the Roman emperors Diocletian and Maximian.

One tradition states that they came from the east, encouraged by a veiled reference to the Orient in Clematius’ inscription; another says they came from Great Britain.

By the tenth century, the group was universally referred to as “the eleven thousand virgins”, and always accompanying the name of Ursula.

The figure is widely agreed to have resulted from someone mistranscribing some Latin many centuries ago (reading “11 thousand” instead of “11 martyrs”), but the following story has stuck.

The legend tells that Ursula was the daughter of the king of Cornwall and was betrothed to the governor of Brittany, perhaps in the fourth century (her death is said to have been in 383).


She set sail to join him accompanied by 11,000 virgin handmaidens (clearly a huge fleet was needed – even the Titanic only held 2,220 people).

They became caught up in a storm which miraculously brought them to Gaul in only a single day, and Ursula was moved my this to set out on a pilgrimage to Rome and beyond before going to marry her fiancé.

At Rome, an otherwise unrecorded Pope by the name of Cyriacus was persuaded to join her. When they arrived at Cologne, they encountered the Huns who were laying siege to the city, and were massacred.

They were buried there, supposedly in the basilica that Clematius later repaired. A tradition dating back to the 16th century also says that St Mary Axe, a lost church in the city of London where the ‘Gherkin’ skyscraper now stands, was also named after Ursula and the virgins, and contained the axe that the Huns used to kill them.

Although so little, if anything, is known of Ursula, her name has inspired people down the ages since. In the 15th century, Columbus names the Virgin Islands after her. In 1520, Magellan also named a cape after the virgins.

Hildegard of Bingen wrote songs honouring Ursula and her handmaidens. In 1535, St Angela Merici founded the Order of Ursulines, dedicated to the education of young women, the first of its kind and still going today. Many similar congregations have been formed since.

Ursula’s memorial is 21 October, though she was removed from the universal calendar of saints by the Pope in 1969. As well as patron of young women, and students in general, she is still celebrated in Cologne and at the University of Paris.

Other ‘U’ Saints

  • St Ulrich (890-973) was a Swiss nobleman and later bishop who built many churches. He was the first saint to be canonised by a Pope, and is patron against fever, dizziness, mice and moles (feast 4 July).

A-Z of Saints: Thomas of Canterbury

Thomas Becket (the spurious ‘à’ was added long after he died) was born in London on 21 December, probably in 1118. His parents were Normans (though one legend says his mother was a Muslim) and therefore among the upper classes of Britain at the time. His upbringing was appropriately comfortable, and he learned to ride and hunt and joust like others of his class. As a child he was educated at Merton Abbey, and later abroad in Paris and Bologna. An early account says he was “slim of growth and pale of hue, with dark hair… winning in his conversation… but slightly stuttering”.

In his early twenties, Becket caught the eye of Theobald, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and was entrusted with missions to Rome, in due course becoming an archdeacon, known as ‘Thomas of London’. When the new king Henry II took the throne in 1154, a new Lord Chancellor was required, and at Theobald’s recommendation Becket was given the role – one of the most powerful in the country.

Thus began what was initially a great and famous friendship. Becket fostered the king’s young son, who is said to have been closer to Becket than to his real father. At this time Becket and the king were said to have hunted and even done battle together and been ‘of one heart and mind’.

On the death of Theobald in 1161, however, everything changed. Henry sought more control over the Church, and wanted to appoint Thomas as successor to the archbishopric. Becket was extremely reluctant to serve two masters, but was persuaded to the role in 1162. He had warned Henry before that if he were appointed he would inevitably need to oppose the king in some matters – and this soon became true.

Becket transformed himself after the appointment, from a hedonistic courtier to a monastic prelate. He resigned the chancellorship, beginning a series of affronts to Henry. He fought for the Church’s exemption from civil authority, and won Henry’s anger. A dispute over money sent Becket into voluntary exile to France, where he then quarrelled with the Pope, though also almost persuaded him to excommunicate Henry.

In 1170, a tentative reconciliation occurred and Becket came back to England, but continued to harangue the king. In December, Henry supposedly cried his famous words – “Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?” or similar – and four French knights interpreted this as an order. They murdered Becket, as immortalised in T S Eliot’s play, in Canterbury Cathedral itself. Henry did great penance, and Becket was canonised only three years later.

Many miracles were said to have been worked at his shrine, though it was later destroyed by Henry VIII (who allegedly summoned Becket’s bones to trial for high treason). A skeleton was found in 1888 which is believed to be the saint’s. Becket’s memorial is 29 December and he is remembered as patron of secular clergy, Exeter College in Oxford, and Portsmouth.

Other ‘T’ saints

  • Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) was a Spanish mystic and major figure of the Reformation. Her feast is 15 October and she is patron of headaches, laceworkers and people ridiculed for their piety
  • Thomas the Apostle (died c72) was ‘Doubting Thomas’ and said to be a twin. He is remembered on 3 July and is patron of architects, India and people in doubt.

A-Z of Saints: Quirinus

Less than half a per cent of the saints commonly recognised have names beginning with ‘Q’, and that’s generously allowing alternative spellings, and most of these are far from well known – so it’s not that easy to find much about them.

Here at least is a potted guide to not one but five martyrs who all bore the name Quirinus, suggesting at least that it was not a lucky name to have.

1. Our first Quirinus was Bishop of Sisak (or Siscia) in Croatia, alive in the late third and early fourth centuries. During a wave of persecutions by the Roman emperor Galerius, the bishop was ordered to make a sacrifice to the old gods. When he refused he was drowned in the River Raab with a millstone around his neck (around 308/9AD).

We are told that he did not sink immediately and was still praying as he was swept downstream. His bones were taken to Italy in the 5th century and are believed to remain in a vaulted chamber in Rome to this day. His feast is 4 June, and he is the patron of obsession and possession by evil spirits.

2. Another Quirinus was buried in the same part of Rome – this one a Roman himself, said to have been a tribune, and the jailer of Pope Alexander I. He was converted by the pope’s daughter. He was once remembered on 30 March. A cathedral at Neuss in the lower Rhineland is named after him still – his relics were taken there by the sister of Pope Leo IX in the 11th century. A new shrine to him was erected there in 1900.

3. Another Roman Quirinus is recalled sometimes on 25 March. Almost nothing is known of him, and his relics are said to be in a Benedictine abbey in Bavaria.

4. A fourth St Quirinus is remembered in Prussia, with his remains in an abbey at Malmedy. He and a companion were put to death, but when, by whom and why are unclear. He is remembered on 11 October.

5. People in Tivoli remember another martyred Quirinus on 4 June, though of course this could be a conflation of our first Quirinus above.

Other ‘Q’ saints

  • St Quentin was, according to legend, a Roman citizen, son of a senator, martyred in Gaul. He was imprisoned by a prefect, tortured and beheaded, supposedly in the place that now bears his name. He is remembered on 31 October and is patron against coughs.
  • Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi (1880-1951), remembered on 25 November, was a layman who made his home a shelter for refugees in World War Two. He has been beatified (but not yet canonised) for an alleged miraculous healing of a young man with a severe circulatory disorder, who is now a neurosurgeon in Italy.

A-Z of Saints: Pantaleon

A saint who represented both sides in the war between religion and science…

In the mid-14th century, in response to the horrors and social consequences of the Black Death, a group of 14 saints began to be venerated in Germany, each ‘responsible’ for a particular patronage, whether against plagues, headaches or family strife, or for safe childbirth, physicians and protection.

They became known as the Fourteen Holy Helpers – and it’s hard not to think of them as some sort of saintly band of X-Men.

They were venerated on 8 August, and in the 16th century indulgences were attached to their devotion, but their joint feast was dropped in 1969. One of these 14 was Pantaleon (also known as Pantaleimon).

Legend has it that Pantaleon, like several others in this A-Z, was the son of a rich pagan, in this case Eustorgius of Nicomedia (modern Izmit in Turkey); his mother was Saint Eubula, and he lived in the late third century.

After her death he drifted away from her faith and focused on studying medicine, becoming physician to the emperor Maximian. It is even said that he began to celebrate idolatry.


A bishop of Nicomedia, Saint Hermolaus, won Pantaleon back to the church by convincing him that the best physician for men was Christ.

Pantaleon then brought these two traditions of faith and healing together by healing a blind man, and a as a result converted his own father to Christianity. When he inherited his father’s wealth, he distributed it to the poor.

Meanwhile the authorities of medicine were unimpressed, and denounced him to the emperor during the Diocletian persecution. The emperor tried to save his physician by persuading him to denounce his faith, but Pantaleon was unbowed and came to trial.

At the trial he challenged the pagan priests to heal a man who was paralysed – they failed, and he succeeded, but was tortured and ultimately beheaded for his trouble (c305 AD).

According to tradition, his tortures were prolonged by his continued survival despite all odds: an apparition of Hermolaus saved him from burning torches; an apparition of Christ quenched a bath of molten lead; wild beasts sent to tear him limb from limb were cowed and sought his blessing; and when he was bound to a wheel, the ropes snapped.

When their swords bent as they tried to behead him, his executioners became Christians themselves, and only when Pantaleon permitted their cuts did he fall.

Pantaleon is remembered on 27 July and there are numerous churches named after him, particularly in southern France. Relics of his are said to be in Paris, and his head at Lyon. He is the patron of physicians, bachelors, torture victims and tuberculosis.

Other ‘P’ saints

  • St Patrick (386-493) is of course the patron saint of Ireland, remembered on 17 March. Born somewhere in western Britain, he is also the patron of excluded people, engineers and Nigeria.
  • St Philomena was supposedly a 4th century saint from Italy, but was only venerated from the 19th century, and was removed from the Catholic calendar of saints in 1961 due to lack of historical information. Some still recall her feast on 11 August, however, and she is a patron of children, lost causes and sterility.

A-Z of Saints: Michael

St Michael is distinctive as a saint for being an archangel rather than a human. Here we explore the various traditions associated with him.

Different traditions assert that there are either three, four or seven archangels – but Michael is always one of them (along with Gabriel and Raphael), and he has been venerated for centuries by Jews and Christians alike, and indeed referred to in Islamic writings, including the Koran.

He appears in the Bible just four times. The first two references are in Daniel 10 and 12, described as a ‘great prince’; the third in the book of Jude, referring to an ancient tradition of a dispute between Michael and Satan over the body of Moses; and finally in Revelation 12: ‘And there was a great battle in heaven, Michael and his angels fought with the dragon.’

Some traditions associate Michael with other angelic references in the Bible, such as the cherub who stood at the gates of paradise in Genesis 3, and he is mentioned in one of the Dead Sea Scrolls as the ‘viceroy of heaven’, and in the apocryphal Book of Enoch.

In Christian tradition, Michael is given four offices: to fight Satan (the fallen angel Samael or Lucifer); to rescue the souls of the faithful from the enemy, especially at the point of death; to champion God’s people, whether Jews or Christians; and to bring people’s souls to judgement. Early Christians venerated him more for care of the sick than battle with evil, however: it was only in late mediaeval times that he joined St George as a patron of chivalry.

St Michael’s memorial day is 29 September (Michaelmas) – one of the old ‘quarter days’ of England and Ireland when servants were hired and rents became due. Another day, 8 May, is important to Michael: in the Roman Breviary he is said to have appeared at a sanctuary on Monte Gargano, Italy, in the late 5th or early 6th century, and interceded in favour of the Lombards in a battle with the Greek Neapolitans – this date has since been remembered as the ‘apparition of St Michael’, and a church was built in his honour at the site. ‘Relics’ of St Michael are usually chips of rock from this cave, or cloth that has touched it.

Michael’s patronage extends far and wide: early Egyptian Christians placed the Nile under his protection; in Normandy, he is the patron of mariners and said to have appeared to a bishop in 708; in Germany he replaced the pagan Wotan (Odin) as patron of mountains; on the Scottish Isle of Skye, a procession was held on Michaelmas and a cake – St Michael’s bannock – baked; and he is also patron of ambulance drivers, artists, bankers, grocers, hatters, knights; policemen, storms at sea and swordsmiths, among many others.

Michael has also enjoyed popularity in recent popular culture, including the 1996 John Travolta movie Michael and the DC Comics Lucifer series.

Other ‘M’ saints include:

  • The two evangelists Mark and Matthew, of course. Mark, symbolised by the Lion, is said to have travelled to Cyprus with Paul, and Orthodox traditions say he was the first pope of Alexandria. His memorial is 25 April and he is patron of lawyers, prisoners, glaziers and Venice. Matthew was a publican or tax collector before he bacame one of Jesus’ disciples; his day is 21 September and he is patron of financial workers such as accountants and stockbrokers.
  • St Margaret of Scotland (c1045-1093) was the granddaughter of Edmund Ironside, and married Malcolm III, King of Scots. She was born in Hungary but grew up in Scotland, and helped with the founding of Dunfermline Abbey, as well as being renowned for her almsgiving. She died at Edinburgh Castle; her memorial was in June but was moved to 16 November in the 1970s. She is patron of large families, widows and Scotland.

A-Z of Saints: Lucy

St Lucy is the only saint celebrated by Lutherans in Scandinavia. Here is her story.

As with many saints, we know more of Lucy or Lucia from legend than life. According to tradition, she was born to a rich family of noble Christian descent, Greek on her mother’s side and Roman on her father’s, in Syracuse around 283 AD. Her father died when she was young, and her mother Eutychia was keen to see her married off – in this case to a young pagan.

Lucy knew from an early age that she wished only to be a bride of Christ, and vowed to maintain her virginity, as well as devoting her worldy goods to the poor.

Lucy prayed at the tomb of St Agatha in Catania, 50 miles from Syracuse, that her mother might be dissuaded from forcing her to marry, and the story goes that St Agatha interceded and cured Eutychia of a debilitating haemorrhage. This gave Lucy the leverage to persuade her mother to back off, and indeed to distribute much of her own riches to the needy.

This generosity alas came to the attention of Lucy’s betrothed, who was jealous and unmotivated by Christian charity. In 303 he reported her – during a period of persecution of Christians by the emperor Diocletian – to Paschasius, the governor of Sicily. She was sentenced to forced prostitution, but the guards sent were unable to move her, even with oxen. They were then ordered to kill her with bundles of wood set on fire, having tortured her and gouged out her eyes, but again she miraculously prevailed – until, finally, she was stabbed to death.

As she died she foretold Paschasius’ own punishment, and the decline of Diocletian, and some accounts say her eyesight was restored (though perhaps of little use at this stage). She probably died in the year 304.

Lucy was venerated early on, and commemorated by Saints Gregory and Aldhelm, and the historian Bede. Her body is said to have lain undisturbed in Sicily for 400 years, and was then removed to Corfinium in Italy, and thence to the church of St Vincent in Metz, France, though her relics are now believed to be scattered across various locations in Europe.

Lucy’s wide range of patronage included authors, blindness, glaziers, haemorrhages, saddlers and sore throats, and she is remembered on 13 December.

In Scandinavia, her feast has become unusually important: in Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland alike she is portrayed by women wearing a headdress of candles (symbolising the fire that was burnt around her), and special carols are sung – this festival of light (Lucy indeed means ‘light’), at the dark point of the year, may well have pagan origins before her. In Sweden a number of traditions are particularly well-established, and make the day almost as significant as Christmas. Various Lucine traditions persist in Italy, too, where children sometimes leave gifts out for her.

Other ‘L’ saints include:

  • The evangelist St Luke, of course – born to Greek parents in Antioch and died c74 – wrote one of the Gospels, and is remembered for being a physician, hence his patronage of doctors (but also bookbinders, goldsmiths and many others). His memorial day is 18 October.
  • St Lawrence was born in Spain and was martyred by being cooked to death on a gridiron in 258 – hence his patronage of cooks. He is also patron to the poor for his many good works to support them, and for upholding them as the “treasure of the Church”. His memorial is 10 August.

A-Z of Saints: Kilian

‘K’ saints are fewer and further between than many, but there are some, and one of them offers the tantalising prospect of being patron saint of gout, rheumatism and whitewashers. This is his story.

Kilian (or Cilline, Chilianus or Killena, among others) is believed to have been born to a noble family in Ireland (or possibly Scotland) around 640AD. In his youth, as many other saints before him (except rebels such as Francis), he was known for his studiousness and piety.

In early years after his decision to become a monk, he is believed to have dwelled at Hy – better known as Iona – and may even have become the abbot there. In accordance with Irish custom, he later became a traveling bishop, before setting out with 11 companions across what are now France and Germany. It is as an apostle to Franconia – a historic region of Germany now part of Bavaria, and centred on Wurzburg, that he is now chiefly remembered. In 686, Kilian visited Pope Conan, who had recently succeeded John V, and was given licence as a missionary to Franconia.

At Wurzburg, Kilian met the pagan, Frankish ruler Duke Gozbert, whom he converted around 687. Gozbert was at the time married to Geilana, his brother’s widow – an arrangement not acceptable for a Christian at the time, which Kilian of course pointed out. It seems that Gozbert was compliant, but Geilana reacted with the fury of a woman scorned, and plotted against the bishop.

In a story worthy of Elizabethan drama, while the Duke was away on business, Geilana hired a murderer to despatch not just Kilian, but his two assistants, Colman and Totnan (both saints now, too), apparently on 8 July 689, the date now commemorating Kilian, who is also remembered as patron of Bavaria. In a thorough cover-up, they were buried at the crime scene along with all their vessels, vestments and writings – perhaps why he has become patron of whitewashers…

On Gozbert’s return, the Lady Macbeth-like Geilana disavowed all knowledge of the murders, but the assassin was burdened by guilt, went mad, confessed, and died in misery. Geilana herself also later succumbed to madness.

The martyrs were not silenced by death, however, and miracles were soon attributed to the site of their deaths, and their remains recovered and reburied in a vault of what became Wurzburg cathedral in 752, and are believed to remain there to this day. Kilian’s copy of the New Testament was also recovered and held there until 1803, when it moved to Wurzburg University library.

Other ‘K’ saints:

  • St Kevin was an irish abbot of the early sixth century, who founded the monastery at Glendalough – he also met St Columba. The churches he founded remain a site of pilgrimage, and his feast day is celebrated on 3 June. He is said to have lived to the age of 120, and is a patron of blackbirds and Ireland.
  • St Kenneth (or Kenny, or Canice) was born (also in Ireland) around 515, son of a royal bard, and died in 600. Tradition holds that he founded a monastery in Kilkenny, and legend says that he chased away all the mice on the island of Inish Ubdain. When he was a hermit, a stag is believed to have held his bible open for him on its antlers. His memorial is 11 October.