Along the Camino Frances, after the legendary stop of O Cebreiro, on a windswept crest, you’ll come across an impressive statue of a medieval pilgrim battling the elements. This is the poster child of the medieval pilgrim, San Roque, the Patron Saint of Plagues, and a perhaps a saint for our times?
San Roque was born about 1295 in Montpellier, France, the son of the governor. Nothing is known of his childhood except that it was privileged and that he lost both parents by the age of twenty. Whereupon, he joined the Franciscan Order and distributed his fortune among the poor.
He then went on pilgrimage to Rome and there cared for the victims of the plague that was taking its toll on Italy. He devoted himself to the plague-stricken, curing them with the sign of the cross. He next visited Cesena and other neighboring cities before going on to Rome. Everywhere the terrible scourge disappeared before his miraculous power.
Eventually, he caught the plague himself, while ministering to the sick, and was expelled from the town. Ill and starving, he was saved when a hunting dog found him and brought him bread every day.
He recovered and decided to devote himself to caring for the sick. He, also, eventually became the patron saint of dogs, as well. San Roque was reputed to have performed many miracles of healing throughout his life... and after his death!
San Roque’s intercession was called upon when a plague struck Germany in the 15th century. “In 1414, during the Council of Constance, the plague having broken out in that city, the Fathers of the Council ordered public prayers and processions in honor of the saint, and immediately the plague ceased.
Time and time again he was invoked during various medieval plagues and eventually became “The Patron Saint Against Plagues”.
At a time when we are all feeling the direct or indirect impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, and few if any, pilgrims are walking or cycling the Camino de Santiago, perhaps it feels like a good time to remember the brave example he set 700 years ago?
Written by Margaret Jeffries
Founder of Cycling Centuries bike tours, world traveler and Iberian travel consultant.