The 14 Holy Helpers
There are many great saints in heaven that are confidently invoked for help and graces. While all the saints can generally help us in any situation, God grants that usually there are certain saints that have a particular ability and ‘focus’ for specific needs. This is where the term "Patron Saint" comes from. For example, among all of the saints that are invoked with special confidence, there is a particular group of 14 saints who have proven themselves extremely helpful in various hardships and difficulties. Although their lives on Earth differed from each other - both in the time they lived and in their walks of life - these saints are often venerated as a group under the collective title of ‘The Fourteen Holy Helpers,’ or simply, ‘Holy Helpers’.
These 14 Saints are:
1. Saint George - (April 23) - Invoked for the protection of domestic animals, which were also attacked by the plague.
2. Saint Blaise - (February 3) - Against the ills of the throat
3. Saint Pantaleon - (July 27) - Patron of physicians; Invoked for the protection of domestic animals, which were also attacked by the plague.
4. Saint Vitus - (June 15) - Against epilepsy; Invoked for the protection of domestic animals, which were also attacked by the plague.
5. Saint Erasmus - (June 2) - Invoked for the protection of domestic animals, which were also attacked by the plague.
6. Saint Christopher - (July 25) - Against the plague; was appealed to for protection against a sudden and unprovided death
7. Saint Denis - (October 9) - Against a headache
8. Saint Cyriac - (August 8) - Powerful in protection against temptations, especially those at the hour of death
9. Saint Acacius - (May 8) - Invoked in death's agony
10. Saint Eustace - (September 20) - Against the ills of the abdomen; Patron in all kinds of difficulties, including protection against fire. Also, since he was separated from his family because of unusual and painful circumstances, Saint Eustace is also invoked in family troubles. During the "Black Death," his patronage was especially invoked since many families were suffering attacks and separation due to the widespread terror and death.
11. Saint Giles - (September 1) - Against the plague; prayed to for the graces to make a good confession
12. Saint Catherine of Alexandria - (November 25) - Against the ills of the tongue; appealed to for protection against a sudden and unprovided death
13. Saint Margaret of Antioch - (July 20) - Invoked during pregnancy, labor and childbirth
14. Saint Barbara - (December 4) - Against fever; appealed to for protection against a sudden and unprovided death
These saints have been invoked as a group ever since the time of an epidemic which devastated Europe from 1346 to 1349. It was called the plague, or "Black Death." Some of its terrible symptoms were: the turning black of the tongue; a parched throat; violent headache; fever; and sores on the abdomen. This dreadful malady attacked its victims suddenly, depriving them the use of their reason, and causing death in a few hours. Many died in this horrible way without even the benefit of the last Sacraments. All natural cures for the plague were fruitless.
During this period of widespread agony, the people turned toward Heaven with confidence. They took refuge in the intercession of the saints, praying to be spared of the plague’s deadly attack, or to be cured when stricken.
Invoking the "14 Holy Helpers" was very effective and widespread in olden times - especially during the plague and other epidemics. But why these fourteen? Evidently, what they were the patrons for or against is what motivated people to pray to them, and in time, the faithful were inspired to invoke all 14 as a special group.
Over the centuries, these 14 saints have been depicted in religious art with the symbols of their martyrdom. Surprisingly enough, they have also been represented as a group of children. The story behind this, was actually an interesting confirmation from the 14 Holy Helpers that they were pleased to be identified as a group.
It was on the evening of September 22, 1445, that a young shepherd, Herman Leicht, was gathering his flock for the journey home. The sheep were actually not his own, but belonged to the monks of the abbey of Langheim. This monastery, in the diocese of Bamberg, Bavaria owned a small farm where the monks could keep their flocks. The animals were then tended to by shepherds, who led them along the hillsides. After a quiet graze all day, the flocks would be herded back to the farm.
And it was on such a return journey, that young Herman suddenly thought he heard the cry of a child. Looking around, he saw a child sitting in a field nearby. Surprised, and wondering how the child had come there, Herman was about to approach, when the mysterious child disappeared.
Feeling rather disturbed, the young shepherd returned to his flock. After reaching it, he turned to look back to the spot where he had seen the apparition. There the child sat again, this time in a circle of light, and between two burning candles. Terrified at this second apparition, Herman made the sign of the cross. But the child simply smiled, as if to encourage him. So, Herman went to approach it again. But before he got near, the child vanished a second time.
The poor shepherd was utterly bewildered. He led his flock home and informed his parents of the strange occurrence. They considered the whole affair nothing more than a delusion of his mind. But Herman felt so uneasy about the whole thing that he went to the monastery, hoping to receive some explanation. He told his experience to one of the Fathers. The monk advised Herman that if the child should appear again, he should ask the child what it wanted.
Nearly a year later, at about sunset on June 28, 1446, the eve of the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the child did appear again to the shepherd in the same place as before. But this time it was surrounded by thirteen other children, all of them in a halo of glory. Herman boldly approached the group and, addressing the child he’d first seen, he asked - in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit - what this child desired.
The reply was, "We are the Fourteen Helpers, and desire that a chapel be built for us. Be our servant, and we shall serve you." Then the group of children disappeared, and the shepherd boy was filled with heavenly consolation.
The following Sunday, after he had led his flock to the pasture, Herman saw two lighted candles descending from the sky to the place where he had seen the Heavenly children.
The boy hurried to the monastery and told them everything he had seen. The abbot, Frederic IV, was not inclined to believe in the apparitions. Unfortunately, neither were the rest of the community. They attributed it to the boy's ‘visionary fancy’. But God did not abandon Herman.
One by one, people began reporting extraordinary favors being received upon the simple hillside - the very place where Herman had seen the 14 Holy Helpers. The monks could not ignore this ever growing appeal of miracles and, in 1447, they at last began construction of the requested chapel. The next year, the building was completed and, not long afterwards, officially dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Fourteen Holy Helpers.
The bishop granted an indulgence for the day of the anniversary of the dedication. The Papal Nuncio, Cardinal Joannes, granted another, and Pope Nicholas V granted a third. These indulgences, and a number of other spiritual privileges granted to the chapel, attracted a great many visitors, to the point that it became a place of pious pilgrimage.
Elector Frederic III, in fulfillment of a vow he had made when he was assailed by certain troubles, went himself to the chapel in 1485. Emperor Ferdinand also visited this chapel, and left, as a votive offering, his gold pectoral chain on the altar. As time passed, devotion to the Fourteen Holy Helpers continued to spread. In 1743, the old chapel was replaced with a magnificent church.
Whenever and wherever these saints have been invoked, they have proven themselves to be eager helpers. More than anything else, this saintly band desires to intercede for those who confidently and faithfully call upon them in all difficulties and trials, however serious or sudden these troubles may be.
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