The Fourteen Holy Helpers are a group of saints which were venerated throughout medieval Europe, and are still prominent among Christians worldwide today.
Though throughout time their reverences have changed, they still inspire the faith of millions of Christians around the world, and their stories are still told.
These Saints are jointly commemorated on August 8th. Though some of the Fourteen Holy Helpers have now had their feast days officially removed from the Catholic Calendar, during the 1969 revision, their feast days are still celebrated and known by many of the faithful.
The Fourteen Holy Helpers consist of Saints from east and west, male and female. Eleven males and three females to be precise.
So who are the Fourteen Holy Helpers? Their names are Saint Christopher, Saint Blaise, Saint Vitus, Saint George, Saint Margaret, Saint Barbara, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, Saint Erasmus, Saint Panteleon, Saint Cyriacus, Saint Aegidius, Saint Acatius, Saint Denis and Saint Eustace. Here are their individual stories.
Saint Christopher is venerated as the patron Saint of Travellers and quite recently of motorists. Though a much revered and known saint, there is no certainty on his historical existence, although according to the Roman Martyrology he died in Lycia, a south-western district of Anatolia, modern day Turkey, under the Roman Emperor Decius (c. 250).
He is a man with a great reputation, he is said to have helped travellers cross a river, and even carried Jesus as a child across the river, when half way through the child became extremely heavy, and as the saint declared the weight was too much, he was told he was carrying the whole world and him who made it. The Greek translation of Christopher, means “Christ-bearer”.
Another of the Fourteen Holy Helpers is Saint Blaise. Saint Blaise was a physician, and bishop of Sebastea in what was then Armenia (modern Sivas, Turkey).
It’s said that although he performed many miracles and cured people of their ailments, animals also sought his assistance and came to him for help. Animals were also said to have assisted the saint in return.
The governor of Cappadocia, Agricolaus, began to persecute and kill Christians under the orders of the Emperor Licinius, and Saint Blaise was in turn arrested, and taken to prison. While he was on his way to prison, a woman is said to have placed her son, who was choking on a fish bone before the feet of the saint, and her son was healed instantly.
In the Acta Sanctorum (The Acts of the Saints), Saint Blaise was martyred by being beaten with iron combs, and beheaded. He is celebrated as the patron saint of wool combers, and the protector against diseases of the throat.
At one point in Rome, there were thirty churches which were dedicated to him.
In the Catholic Church his feast day is celebrated on 3 February, while in the Eastern Churches on 11 February. His feast day is the first of the fourteen Holy Helpers.
Saint George is another of the fourteen Holy Helpers. He was martyred during the infamous Diocletian persecution.
His story was told by the great Saint Ephrem the Syrian, and as a result, Saint George has become a renowned Saint throughout the world.
George was born in Cappadocia, but after the death of his father, he moved with his mother to Palestine. There he enlisted in the army, and given his attributes, he quickly rose to the high rank of tribune.
After the Emperor Diocletian began his persecution of Christians, George denounced the Emperors actions, after which, he was arrested and taken to prison in the city of Lydda, where he was subsequently tortured. The saint refused to denounce Christ, and said “It were better for you to acknowledge the true God and seek His kingdom.” It is said that George was tied to a spiked wheel, and received a vision from Christ. He was encouraged by the vision, he remained steadfast in his faith. Witnesses of his torture began to convert to Christianity.
Saint George was eventually beheaded in the year 303AD. He is the protector against diseases of the skin and palsy.
Saint Aegidius (Giles) was originally from Athens, Greece. He left Greece and went to live out his days in a remote location in France, where he took a few other devout men with him to live as Monks.
He was called upon by the King of the Franks, Charles Martel, to enter his court as a counsellor.
The king confided in Aegidius a sin that he had kept secret, and the saint warned him that he must confess. Charles did so, and after, the king was at peace.
The saint didn’t die a martyrs death, he died of old age in the year 712 at his monastic retreat. He is one of two Holy Helpers who died naturally. He is known as the protector against crippling diseases.
Saint Denis was converted to Christianity by Saint Paul himself, after hearing the Apostle preach a sermon at Areopagus. Saint Paul went on to ordain him a priest and the first bishop of Athens.
The saint wanted to acquaint himself with the holy people who were closest to Christ himself. In order to do so, he travelled to Jerusalem, where he met with several apostles, Saint Luke, and Holy Mary in person. So radiantly beautiful was the Mother of God that Saint Denis declared he would have adored her as God, had he not Faith in the divinity of her Son.
Denis returned to Athens, where he continued his efforts to win converts. He proved highly successful, so much so, that a group of pagan priests conspired to kill him.
He then fled to Rome, where he met with Pope Clement, who told him not to return to Athens, but instead to continue his preaching in Gaul (France).
Saint Denis obliged and went off to preach in Gaul with a small group of followers. He eventually ended up in a place called Lutetia (modern day Paris), and in 95AD, was martyred by being beheaded on a hill, now called Montmartre in his honor. A church was constructed on the exact location where his head fell on the ground.
As one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, Saint Denis is also known as the protector against demonic assault.
Saint Eustace follows Saint Denis as the second earliest of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, who was martyred under the rule of Emperor Trajan in the year 118AD. Saint Eustace was originally a pagan, by the name of Placidus, who had risen to the rank of general in the army.
While Placidus was out hunting one day, he saw an apparition of Christ on the Cross standing between the antlers of a stag. Jesustold him to convert to Christianity in order to gain eternal life.It wasn’t just Placidus who had this vision, but his wife also saw the same vision under different circumstances.
Placidus and his wife went with their two children to the Bishop of Rome, who baptized the family. Placidus took the baptismal name of Eustace, and was summoned back to military duty by Trajan.
He served his post, but after a certain victory, he was told to offer incense to the gods in thanksgiving. Eustace refused to offer up incense, and as a result he and his family were thrown to the lions.The Lions however, refused to touch the family.
After surviving the Lions, both he and his wife were put to death by been burned in an oven. Their bodies, however, remained intact, and they were later buried by fellow followers of the faith.
A church was later constructed in their honor. Saint Eustace is the protector against fires.
Some records say he was a bishop of Antioch, while others claim he was the bishop of Campania in Italy. He went to live in the mountains in Lebanon during the persecution of Diocletian,as a recluse.While living in the mountains,he was fed by a raven.
Upon being discovered by the persecutors of Christians, he was taken back to Italy, thrown in prison and dreadfully tortured.Miraculously he survived, even after having his intestines partially cut out.
Through his tortures in prison, he endured, and managed to convert many pagans to the faith. After being delivered by an angel and healed of his wounds, he went on to preach the Faith throughout many lands winning thousands of converts.
Upon returning to Italy he was thrown in prison again.Once more, however, he was freed by an angel.He died peacefully in 303.
Erasmus is invoked against stomach disorders.He is also the patron saint of sailors.This is on account of the Saint Erasmus (or Elmo) Fire, which fishermen say comes before a storm as a warning of impending danger.
Saint Cyriacus was a Roman deacon. Under the rule of Diocletian Christians were forced into slave labor, building what became known as “the Baths of Diocletian.” Cyriacus volunteered to take the place of an old laborer.
He was renowned in all Rome for his virtue, even among the pagans. He was summoned by the emperor to cure his daughter who was stricken with blindness. The holy deacon came, and in the Name of Jesus, did just that. From doing so, he gained the favor of the emperor, and he was sent to Persia to cure the daughter of the emperor’s friend King Sapor. Arriving in Persia, he also healed King Sapor’s daughter, after which he returned to Rome.
When Diocletian died, the new emperor, Maximin, intensified the persecution against Christians and had Cyriacus thrown into prison. The holy deacon along with his companions was tortured at the rack after he refused to sacrifice to idols. Finally, together, they were all beheaded. Cyriacus is invoked against eye diseases.
He was born in Sicily to pagan parents who gave him over to the care of a nurse named Crescentia.Crescentia and her husband Modestus were both Catholics.They had Vitus baptized and raised him also as a Catholic.
Vitus later returned to his father, Hylas, and upon discovering Vitus as a Christian, Hylas became enraged.He had Vitus scourged and then brought him to the pagan governor. Crescentia and Modestus were also discovered and arrested.
Vitus, Crescentia and Modestus were horribly tortured, but they refused to denounce their Faith. Together, the three of them managed to escape prison, and fled to Italy,but were arrested again under the Diocletian persecution.
No tortures were able to overcome them, including having boiling pitch poured over them. Even the lions refused to attack them in the Colosseum. These signs only angered the emperor. They were finally put to death on the rack in 303AD.
Saint Vitus in invoked against paralysis, nervous diseases, and epilepsy.
Saint Pantaleon is another of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. He served the Emperor Maximin as a physician. Although Saint Pantaleon was a Christian during his service, he followed the bad examples set by other servants of Maximin, and abandoned Christianity.
A priest by the name of Hermolaus won back the heart of Pantaleon, and converted him back to the faith. After his fathers death, he gave his inheritance to the poor, and continued to practice as a physician.
When his abilities as a Physician proved no use his intercession often provided miraculous cures. As his reputation as a healer grew, Maximin had him brought to court.
Pantaleon declared his faith without fear, even offering an challenge of power to the pagan doctors at the court.A man with the palsy was brought in, and pagan practices could do nothing to cure him. Pantaleon prayed in the “Name of Jesus, the Son of God, I command thee to rise and be well.”And so it was.Many people who witnessed the miracle converted to Christianity, though Maximin wasn’t impressed.
In the year 308AD, Maximin ordered Saint Pantaleon to be nailed to a tree, and beheaded. Saint Pantaleon is invoked against lung diseases.
Originally from Cappodocia, Acacius was a Roman soldier.He rose to the rank of captain during the reign of Emperor Diocletian.
One day while on a campaign with his troops, he heard a voice saying, “Call on the God of the Christians.”He responded immediately, and having sought direction in the Faith, he had himself baptized.After his baptism he tried to convert the soldiers under his command.Diocletian heard of his conversion attempts and threw him into prison, tortured him on the rack, and had him scourged.
Having survived the tortures he was handed over to a tribune named Bibianus.The tribune asked Acacius his name, to which he said, “My name is Christian, because I am a follower of Christ.” He was beaten with clubs and after seven days in another prison, he was transported to Byzantium covered with wounds.
While on this journey to Byzantium, Acacius heard a consoling voice coming from the clouds, “Acatius be firm.”The soldiers escorting him also heard it and were terrified.Many fellow prisoners who heard the voice, were also converted to the faith.Finally, after angels healed his wounds, he was beheaded in 303AD. He is invoked against headaches.
One of the three female Holy Helpers is Saint Barbara. The story of Barbara places her in the mid-third century, having been born in Heliopolis in Phoenicia, to a rich pagan known as Dioscorus.
According to legend, her father had built a tower for the sole purpose of keeping his daughter and her beauty away from the prying eyes of strangers. The only people allowed to enter the tower and communicate with her, were pagan tutors hired by her father to provide her an education.
Having time to reflect and learn in the tower, she is said to have converted to Christianity, and professed her faith to her father, whom having become enraged by her decision, took her to the prefect, whom then sentenced her to be tortured, and eventually beheaded. Her own father Dioscorus, carried out the execution, and as he was traveling back home he was hit by lightning and killed.
In 1969, her feast day was dropped from the Catholic calendar and is no longer mandatory, on the basis of her historical accuracy.
Saint Catherine of Alexandria
According to Christian tradition, Saint Catherine of Alexandria was martyred in Alexandria, Egypt, around the year 305AD. She is revered in the Catholic Church, as well as the Orthodox church as a great saint and martyr.
There are no concrete sources which are testament to her life, but the stories which have been handed down throughout the years are nothing short of inspiring. The earliest documented sources appear around the 9th century.
According to the story, Catherine was born around 287AD to a noble family. As a result of her nobility, she received a good education and went on to become a scholar.
Saint Catherine of Alexandria had a vision when she was just 14 years old, in which she saw Mary and the Infant Jesus. After her vision she decided to convert to Christianity.
At the time of her conversion the Emperor Maxentius began a horrible persecution of the Christians, to which she responded by visiting him in person to denounce his actions. Maxentius heard Saint Catherine speak, and instead of imprisoning her, he summoned fifty scholars to debate her. Saint Catherine wasn’t phased, and overcome by the Holy Spirit, she spoke ardently about the faith, and spoke so well, several of the pagans in the midst of the debate were converted.
Maxentius ordered Saint Catherine to be imprisoned and tortured, though while she was in prison she was able to convert several more soldiers, as well as the wife of the Emperor. After the saint had converted Maxentius’ wife, and not willing to denounce Christ through torture, he ordered her to be executed.
Saint Catherine was taken to a spiked wheel which was to be used for her execution, but after she touched the wheel it broke (this is where we get the term Catherine wheel), after which she was beheaded.
After her death her body was carried by Angels to Mount Sinai, where it was allegedly found around 800AD. In Medieval Europe, Saint Catherine of Alexandria was one of the most important Saints, and Saint Joan of Arc claimed that one of the voices she heard was that of Saint Catherine.
Saint Margaret of Antioch
Born in Antioch, Syria, Saint Margaret was raised a Catholic by a pious nurse. Her father, a pagan priest, made his displeasure clear to her when she told him she was to take a vow of chastity and remain a virgin. It is said that her father then disowned her, and the devout nurse adopted her and together they attended sheep a few miles outside of Antioch.
A prefect known as Olybrius came to her with a proposal of marriage, and after refusing, claiming she was already espoused to the King of Heaven, she was tortured. After the torture she was thrown in jail.
During her time in jail a heavenly visitor came to her in a vision, and healed her of her wounds. Olybrius however, didn’t stop there, even after witnessing this first miracle he took her to be burned by flaming torches, and as the flames didn’t hurt her, the spectators who were watching began to convert to Christianity.
One of her trials was said to be that of Satan himself, who appeared to her as a Dragon, and tried to consume her, but she managed her escape when she displayed the cross she carried and it disturbed Satan so much he couldn’t keep her down. This story is thought to have been apocryphal, some even think it’s a depiction of her relation to, and escape from paganism.
Saint Joan of Arc testified that one of the voices she heard, was that of Saint Margaret. Although the story of Saint Margaret is often criticised, her story of Martyrdom is thought to be true. The year of her death is thought to be around 304AD, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian.
Her feast day was July 20th, however it was taken out of the Catholic calender during the 1969 revision, due to the authenticity of her story.
Whether you believe in their stories or not, they are all inspiring, and the fourteen Holy Helpers are often called upon for their intercession by the faithful.