15 Unusual Patron Saints

L-R: St. Januarius, St Bernardino of Siena, St Giles
L-R: St. Januarius, St Bernardino of Siena, St Giles
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On May 13, Pope Francis canonized the two most recent saints in the Catholic Church at a special ceremony in Portugal. Saint Francisco and Saint Jacinta Marto, a young brother and sister from the Portuguese parish of Fatima, are said to have witnessed an apparition of the Virgin Mary exactly 100 years ago this year, and Pope Francis’s canonization marked the centenary of their first miraculous vision.

Because the locals at the time first refused to believe the Marto siblings’ story—and because they both succumbed to the great flu epidemic that swept Europe just two years later—Saints Franciso and Jacinta of Fatima are already considered patron saints of the sick, of chronic bodily illnesses, and of those ridiculed for their piety. But what if you have other problems or interests that would require the divine assistance of an even more specific saint? Well …

1. ST. ADJUTOR

St. Adjutor is said to have either escaped Muslim captors during the First Crusade and escaped by swimming (according to various stories, he either swam to Crusader territory, swam all the way to France, or was recaptured and then transported back to France by Mary Magdalene), or else calmed a whirlpool that had emerged beside a boat he was traveling on. Either way, he’s now considered the patron saint of swimmers and those at danger from drowning.

2. ST. BALTHASAR

Medieval tradition held that the three kings who visited Jesus in the stable came from all corners of the Medieval world; Balthazar hailed from Africa—frequently Egypt. At the time, Romani card sharps and sideshow sleight-of-hand merchants were popular entertainers across Europe. Because it was mistakenly believed they came from Egypt (hence the name Gypsies) the Egyptian king—St. Balthasar—became the patron saint of playing card manufacturers.

3. ST. BERNARDINO OF SIENA

St. Bernardino of Siena was so well known for his crowd-pleasing public preaching in the early 15th century that he’s now considered the patron saint of advertising and public relations.

4. ST. COLUMBANUS

St. Columbanus spent much of the 6th and 7th century roaming around Europe—and that love of the open road has led to him being considered the patron saint of motorcyclists.

5. ST. DROGO

St. Drogo was so afflicted by a mystery ailment that made him physically repulsive that he’s now considered the patron saint of unattractive people. Entirely unrelatedly, he’s also the patron saint of coffeehouses.

6. ST. ERASMUS

St. Erasmus, Bishop of Formia in modern-day Italy, went through quite an ordeal during the Roman Empire’s persecution of the Christians in the 3rd and 4th centuries. Initially captured and imprisoned sometime in the late 200s, Erasmus is said to have been freed by an angel and fled to Turkey to continue his preaching. Arrested a second time, however, Erasmus’ undying faith so angered the Emperor Maximian that he had him beaten, whipped, placed in a barrel of spikes and rolled down a hill, covered in pitch and set alight, and finally—after he had somehow miraculously survived—his stomach cut open and his intestines wound around a winch. It’s for that latter torture that Erasmus is now considered the patron saint of stomach ailments, colic, and appendicitis.

7. ST. GILES

St. Giles is said to have lived as a hermit in the south of France in the later 7th century, nourishing himself only with the milk of a female deer. Because of that—as well as being the patron saint of the city of Edinburgh—St. Giles is also the patron saint of breastfeeding.

8. ST. GUMMARUS

St. Gummarus of Belgium was an 8th century figure whose wife, a local noblewoman named Guinmarie, was known for her shrewish and abusive behavior. Despite Gummarus’s attempts to salvage their relationship, they separated—and after he went on to found an abbey at Lier, he became the patron saint of difficult marriages.

9. ST. JANUARIUS

A vial of blood belonging to St. Januarius, a 3rd century Bishop of Naples, was saved after his death in 305. The blood is the subject of a longstanding miracle that claims, despite its age, that it liquefies on three dates in the year: September 19, December 16, and the Saturday before the first Sunday in May. For that reason, Januarius is the patron saint of blood banks.

10. ST. JULIAN THE HOSPITALLER

St. Julian the Hospitaller's name refers to the fact that he opened a hostel for travelers and dedicated his life to providing hospitality for the sick and needy—but only after he’d killed his parents in a twist on the story of Oedipus. For that reason, he’s the patron saint of murderers, should you ever need one.

11. ST. LIDWINA

St. Lidwina fell while ice skating at the age of 15 and never fully recovered from her injuries. After a life of piety, her grave became a site of pilgrimage; after her canonization, she became the patron saint of ice skaters.

12. ST. MÉDARD OF PICARDY

St. Médard of Picardy is the patron saint of protection against bad weather, supposedly due to the fact that when he was an infant an eagle flew above him during a storm to shelter him from the rain. According to folklore, whatever the weather on St. Médard’s Day—June 8—you can expect the weather to remain the same for the next 40 days.

13. ST. RITA

Despite wanting to be a nun, St. Rita's parents forced her to marry when she was 12. Through her husband she became embroiled in a bitter feud between two local families; the feud eventually led to her husband’s murder, and the deaths of both her sons. Because of her lifetime of disappointments, difficulty and setbacks, Rita is now considered the patron saint of the impossible.

14. ST. SERVATIUS

St. Servatius was a 4th century Armenian priest who died in Maastricht in the Netherlands of an infection to a leg wound in 384. Not only is Servatius now the patron saint of the city of Maastricht, he’s also responsible for foot and leg disorders, rheumatism, and protection against rats and mice.

15. ST. VEDAST

St. Vedast, or Vaast as he’s also known, is the patron saint of children who are late in learning to walk.

5 Controversial Facts About Melvil Dewey and the Dewey Decimal System

iStock/TerryJ
iStock/TerryJ

Melvil Dewey, the inventor of the Dewey Decimal System, was born on December 10, 1851. Among other things, Dewey was a self-proclaimed reformer, so when working for the Amherst College library in the 1870s, he began to reclassify the facility’s books and how they were organized.

Though the system has gone through plenty of changes over the years, it’s still in wide use all over the world today and forever changed how libraries categorize their books. It has also caused a handful of controversies. In honor of Dewey Decimal Day, we dug into the organizational system—and its creator’s—dark side.

1. Melvil Dewey co-founded the American Library Association, but was forced out because of offensive behavior.

Melvil Dewey was an extremely problematic figure, even in his time. Though he co-founded the American Library Association (ALA), his often-offensive behavior—particularly toward women—didn’t make him a lot of friends.

In Irrepressible Reformer: A Biography of Melvil Dewey, author Wayne A. Wiegand described Dewey’s “persistent inability to control himself around women” as his “old nemesis.” In 1905, Dewey and several fellow ALA members took a cruise to Alaska following a successful ALA conference, with the purpose of discussing the organization’s future. Four women who were part of the trip ended up publicly accusing Dewey of sexual harassment—a rarity for the time. Within a year, Dewey was forced to step down from his involvement with the organization he helped to create.

2. Dewey required applicants to his School of Library Economy to submit photos.


A History of the Adirondacks, by Alfred Lee Donaldson (1921) // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1887, Dewey founded the School of Library Economy at Columbia College, where 90 percent of his students were female. It was long rumored that in addition to basic information like name, age, and educational background, Dewey required that prospective female students also submit their bust sizes. While this rumor was eventually proven to be false, Dewey did ask women to submit photos, often noting that “You cannot polish a pumpkin.”

3. A Howard University librarian reorganized Dewey's original system because of its racial bias.

Dewey’s personal biases spilled over into his creation, too, and it has taken sincere effort and work to right those wrongs. In the 1930s, Howard University librarian Dorothy Porter helped create a new system to undo the racist way Dewey’s system treated black writers. As Smithsonian reported:

All of the libraries that Porter consulted for guidance relied on the Dewey Decimal Classification. “Now in [that] system, they had one number—326—that meant slavery, and they had one other number—325, as I recall it—that meant colonization,” she explained in her oral history. In many “white libraries,” she continued, “every book, whether it was a book of poems by James Weldon Johnson, who everyone knew was a black poet, went under 325. And that was stupid to me.”

In addition to charges of racism, the DDS has also been accused of being homophobic. Early editions of the system classified books on or regarding LGBT issues under Abnormal Psychology, Perversion, Derangement, as a Social Problem, or even as Medical Disorders.

4. Its 'religion' section is skewed heavily toward Christianity.

The DDS section on religion starts at 200, and no other religion besides Christianity is covered until 290. Given that there are more than 4000 religions in the world, saving a mere 10 numbers for their classification doesn’t leave a lot of room for thorough coverage or exploration. Though some changes have been made as new editions of the system have been introduced, the process of restructuring the entire 200s is a project that has yet to be undertaken.

5. Critics of the system would prefer libraries take the Barnes & Noble approach.

The Dewey Decimal System is the most used library classification system, with the Chicago Tribune estimating that more than 200,000 libraries in 135 countries use it. But it’s far from a perfect system. As such, many libraries are experimenting with other organizational techniques, and many are dropping the DDS altogether.

The main complaint that public libraries have is that the Dewey Decimal System does not make reading exciting, and that there are other ways of categorizing and organizing books that are more like that of general bookstores. By doing away with the numbers (which are hard to remember for general library patrons), some libraries are classifying books simply by category and organizing by author—a system they've begun referring to as "Dewey-lite."

6 Fast Facts About Nelly Sachs

Central Press/Getty Images
Central Press/Getty Images

Today, on the 127th anniversary of her birth, a Google Doodle has been created in memory of writer Nelly Sachs, who died of colon cancer in 1970 at the age of 78. The German-Swedish poet and playwright wrote movingly about the horrors of the Holocaust, which she narrowly escaped by fleeing her home and starting a new life in a foreign land. Here are six things to know about Sachs.

1. She was born in Germany.

Sachs was born in Berlin on December 10, 1891. As the daughter of a wealthy manufacturer, she grew up in the city's affluent Tiergarten section. She studied dance and literature as a child, and also started writing romantic poems at age 17.

2. She almost ended up in a concentration camp.

Sachs's father died in 1930, but she and her mother Margarete stayed in Berlin. In 1940, the Gestapo interrogated the two women and tore apart their apartment. They were told they had a week to report to a concentration camp, so they decided to flee the country. Swedish novelist Selma Lagerlöf, with whom Nelly had corresponded for years, saved their lives by convincing the Swedish royal family to help the two women escape to Sweden.

3. She worked as a translator.

Once Nelly and her mother reached Stockholm, Sachs began learning Swedish and ultimately took up work as a translator. She translated poetry from Swedish to German and vice versa.

4. She was nearly 60 when she published her first book of poetry.

Sachs’s first volume of poetry, In den Wohnungen des Todes (In the Habitations of Death), was published in 1947. In this anthology as well as later poems, she used religious imagery to evoke the suffering of her time and the Jewish people.

5. She won the German Book Trade's Peace Prize.

In 1965, Sachs won the Peace Prize from the German Book Trade. She shared a message of forgiveness when she accepted the award from her compatriots. “In spite of all the horrors of the past, I believe in you,” she said.

6. She won the Nobel Prize for Literature on her 75th birthday.

Sachs and Israeli writer Shmuel Yosef Agnon were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1966. According to The Nobel Prize’s website, Sachs was recognized "for her outstanding lyrical and dramatic writing, which interprets Israel's destiny with touching strength.”

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