Today is a day to revel in all things Irish thanks to St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, who, as legend had it, drove away all the snakes from the island nation and introduced the Holy Trinity through the three-leaved shamrock. St. Patrick is believed to have died on March 17th, and it is on this day that many celebrate it as both a religious and cultural holiday.
Thousands of saints are a part of the Christian faith, and many of them are venerated as patron saints who are believed to guard the devoted in all aspects of life. There are saints who watch over specific occupations (doctors, musicians) and even entire countries. Others protect the faithful from ailments, while others assist in lost causes. Often they are martyrs whose miraculous and gory stories continue to fascinate and horrify.
St. Cecilia is the patron saint of musicians, often depicted with a violin or other instrument. She was martyred for her Christian beliefs by Roman soldiers over a three-day period in Sicily, during which she sang to God.
St. Luke is one of the four evangelists and the patron saint of physicians, surgeons, artists and butchers. He is symbolized by an ox, and is believed by some to have painted the first icon. Holy relics of St. Luke lie in Italy and Greece.
It's believed that a king tempted St. Christopher with women and riches to convert away from Christianity without success. Today the saint is known not only as the patron of travelers, but also as a figure who was reduced in holy stature by a modern pope—similar to how Pluto is no longer a planet.
St. Nicholas Known as "The Wonder-Worker," this historic Greek figure was born in modern-day Turkey and is the patron saint of children, sailors and sea merchants. He is also associated with secret gift-giving because he provided the dowry for three poor sisters.
St. Catherine is the patron saint of unmarried girls, spinners and potters. Under the orders of a Roman emperor, she was beaten, imprisoned and then tortured on a large spiked wheel, known as a “breaking wheel,” before being decapitated. A type of fireworks, the Catherine wheel, is named after her.
St. Brigid is one of Ireland’s patron saints, known to be erudite and wise. She ran a large religious order, and her symbols are the eternal lamp of learning and a woven reed cross. Cultural anthropologists link her to pre-Christian practices in Ireland. She is thought to protect children with abusive fathers and watch over dairy maids and cooks.
St. Sebastian is most commonly depicted tied to a post and shot with arrows. He was rescued and healed before being clubbed to death by the Romans around 290 A.D. Not surprisingly, he is the patron saint of archers, fletchers and people seeking relief from pain and suffering. He became tremendously popular during the Middle Ages for protecting the devoted against the plague.
St. Anthony of Padua was born into a noble Portuguese family and traveled to Italy, where his gifted preaching became famous. This Franciscan was the patron of all lost causes, people and articles. He was canonized only a year after his death in 1231, a process that usually can take hundreds of years.
St. Lucy distributed her inherited wealth to the poor. She is often depicted with eyeballs on a plate because according to legend, her eyes were plucked out during the persecutions of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. She is the patron saint of vision and the blind. In December, her birthday is celebrated in Scandinavia with singing and candles. Her name means "light."
St. George is the patron saint of England and several football/soccer teams. He is also associated with battling a dragon. Martyred by the Romans in the late 3rd century, the saint’s legends bear a remarkable resemblance to classical Greek mythology.