Fourteen Holy Helpers

Fourteen Holy Helpers
Venerated in Catholic Church
Feast 8 August (locally)
Painting of the Fourteen Holy Helpers

The Fourteen Holy Helpers are a group of saints venerated together in Roman Catholicism because their intercession is believed to be particularly effective, especially against various diseases. This group of Nothelfer ("helpers in need") originated in the 14th century at first in the Rhineland, largely as a result of the epidemic (probably of bubonic plague) that became known as the Black Death.

History of veneration

Devotion to the fourteen "Auxiliary Saints" began in Rhineland, now part of Germany, in the time of the Black Death.[1]

At the heart of the fourteen were three virgin martyrs:

Sankt Margaretha mit dem Wurm,
Sankt Barbara mit dem Turm,
Sankt Catharina mit dem Radl,
das sind die heiligen drei Madl.[1]

  1. ^ "Sau-Toni, Rochus und die Pest". Heimat- und Verkehrsverein Obernburg. Retrieved 5 November 2007. 

Saint Margaret with the dragon
Saint Barbara with the tower
Saint Catherine with the wheel
those are the three holy maids.

As the other saints began to be invoked along with these three virgin martyrs, they were represented together in works of art. Popular veneration of these saints often began in a monastery that held their relics. All of the saints except Giles were accounted martyrs.

Saint Christopher and Saint Giles were invoked against the plague itself. Saint Denis was prayed to for relief from headache, Saint Blaise for ills of the throat, Saint Elmo, for abdominal maladies, Saint Barbara for fever, and Saint Vitus against epilepsy. Saint Pantaleon was the patron of physicians, Saint Cyriacus invoked against temptation on the deathbed, and Saints Christopher, Barbara, and Catherine for protection against a sudden and unprovided-for death. Saint Giles was prayed to for a good confession, and Saint Eustace as healer of family troubles. Domestic animals were also attacked by the plague, and so Saints George, Elmo, Pantaleon, and Vitus were invoked for their protection. Saint Margaret of Antioch is the patron of safe childbirth.[1]

As the saints' joint cultus spread in the fifteenth century, Pope Nicholas V attached indulgences to devotion of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, though these no longer apply.[1] While each had a separate feast day, the Fourteen Holy Helpers were in some places celebrated as a group on 8 August, but this celebration never became part of the General Roman Calendar for universal veneration.[2] When that calendar was revised in 1969,[3] the individual celebrations of St Barbara, St Catherine of Alexandria, St Christopher, and St Margaret of Antioch were dropped, but in 2004 Pope John Paul II reinstated the 25 November optional memorial of Catherine of Alexandria, whose voice was heard by Saint Joan of Arc. The individual celebrations of all fourteen are included in the General Roman Calendar as in 1954, the General Roman Calendar of Pope Pius XII and the General Roman Calendar of 1960.

Comparable to the cult of the Fourteen Holy Helpers was that of the Four Holy Marshals, who were also venerated in the Rhineland as "Marshals of God." These were Quirinus of Neuss, Saint Anthony the Great, Pope Cornelius, and Saint Hubert.

The Auxiliary Saints

The fourteen saints are:

Name (Alternate)Feast dayPatronage
Agathius (Acacius)8 MayAgainst headache
Barbara4 DecemberAgainst fever and sudden death
Blaise (Blase, Blasius)3 FebruaryAgainst illness of the throat and for protection of domestic animals
Catherine of Alexandria25 NovemberAgainst sudden death
Christopher (Christophorus)25 JulyAgainst bubonic plague and dangers while traveling
Cyriacus8 AugustAgainst temptation on the death-bed
Denis (Dionysius)9 OctoberAgainst headache
Erasmus (Elmo)2 JuneAgainst intestinal ailments
Eustace (Eustachius, Eustathius)20 SeptemberAgainst family discord
George (Georgius)23 AprilFor the health of domestic animals
Giles (Aegidius)1 SeptemberAgainst plague, for a good confession, and for cripples, beggars and blacksmiths
Margaret of Antioch20 JulyDuring childbirth, and escape from devils
Pantaleon (Panteleimon)27 JulyFor physicians, and against cancer and tuberculosis
Vitus (Guy)15 JuneAgainst epilepsy, lightning and for protection of domestic animals

Half the saints are regarded as historical figures (Blaise, Cyriacus, Erasmus, George, Giles, Pantaleon, Vitus) while the other may only be legends (Agathius, Barbara, Catherine of Alexandria, Christopher, Denis, Eustace, Margaret of Antioch). [4]

For one or another of the saints in the original set, Anthony the Anchorite, Leonard of Noblac, Nicholas, Sebastian, Oswald the King, Pope Sixtus II, Apollonia, Dorothea of Caesarea, Wolfgang of Regensburg or Roch were sometimes substituted. In France an extra "helper" is added: the Virgin Mary.[5]

The Basilica of the Vierzehnheiligen

Basilika Vierzehnheiligen

The Fourteen Holy Helpers are honored in Bavaria as the "vierzehn Heiligen," and the Basilica of the Vierzehnheiligen is dedicated to these "Helper Saints." The Rococo pilgrimage church in the town of Bad Staffelstein was designed by Balthasar Neumann and built between 1743 and 1772.

Devotion to these saints began in that region on 24 September 1445 when Hermann Leicht, the young shepherd of a nearby Franciscan monastery, saw a crying child in a field that belonged to the nearby Cistercian monastery of Langheim. As he bent down to pick up the child, it abruptly disappeared. A short time later, the child reappeared in the same spot. This time, two candles were burning next to it. In June 1446, Leicht saw the child a third time. This time, the child bore a red cross on its chest and was accompanied by thirteen other children. The child said: "We are the fourteen helpers and wish to erect a chapel here, where we can rest. If you will be our servant, we will be yours!" Shortly after, Leicht saw two burning candles descending to this spot. It is alleged that miraculous healings soon began, through the intervention of the fourteen saints.

The Cistercian brothers to whom the land belonged erected a chapel, which immediately attracted pilgrims. An altar was consecrated as early as 1448. Pilgrimages to the Vierzehnheiligen continue to the present day between May and October.

Depiction in culture

One of the most famous group depictions of the "Fourteen Saints" is a 1503 altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald for the monastery in Lichtenfels in Upper Franconia.

The "fourteen angels" of the lost children's prayer in Engelbert Humperdinck's fairy opera, 'Hansel and Gretel', are the Fourteen Holy Helpers. The English words are familiar:

When at night I go to sleep,
Fourteen angels watch do keep,
Two my head are guarding,
Two my feet are guiding;
Two upon my right hand,
Two upon my left hand.
Two who warmly cover
Two who o'er me hover,
Two to whom 'tis given
To guide my steps to heaven.[1]

  1. ^ "When at Night I Go to Sleep". The Hymns and Carols of Christmas. Retrieved 5 November 2007. 

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Hammer, Bonaventure (1995). "The Fourteen Holy Helpers". Retrieved 6 November 2007.
  2. See Roman Missal: original edition of Pope Pius V (reproduced in Missale Romanum – Editio Princeps, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1998, ISBN 88-209-2547-8); 1634 typical edition; 1884 typical edition; 1920 typical edition;1962 typical edition
  3. See Mysterii Paschalis.
  4. Jockle, Clemens (2003). Encyclopedia of Saints. Konecky & Konecky.
  5. Jones, G. R. (9 April 2004). "8 August is the feast of...". Saints at a Glance. Retrieved 6 November 2007.
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