Two Plague Saints

On a pilgrimage to Rome in the late 14th c., Roch of Montpellier became ill; hiding in a forest, he is said to have been fed by a dog bringing him bread and licking his wounds. Not surprisingly, he was later regarded as an intercessor in times of plague and pestilence. No one quite knows how the late 3rd c. Diocletian martyr Sebastian became a ‘plague saint’, though this association goes back to the 7th century. Here we see five depictions of these saints, mainly from the 16th c. We often see statues of St Roch by himself in French churches, Roch is usually recognizable by his plague sore and his dog; at St Junien (1, Haute-Vienne) he is also accompanied by an angel, said to have visited him in prison. At Conches (2, Eure) cockle shells and crossed staffs show his pilgrim status. The painting of Roch on the screen at North Tuddenham (Norfolk: 3) is of c.1499, while the screen at Wellingham (Norfolk: 4) with a painting of Sebastian, as well as an unknown king, is dated 1532. The two saints were often linked together in the minds of the faithful and of artists; they are depicted together with St Bertrand on the nave side of the screen around the choir of the cathedral of St Bertrand de Comminges (Midi-Pyrénées: 5), made in 1539.

 

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