“Yes, there’s actually a St. Corona! And her remains are in Northern Italy.” That headline on the popular Catholic website Aleteia alerts readers to a story that goes on to claim that St. Corona “is considered as one of the patron saints of pandemics.”
That’s not exactly true, but does it matter?
The coronavirus pandemic has the faithful grasping for hope in many places, most recently from a little-known saint who died 1,800 years ago. Thanks to the virus carrying her name, St. Corona has become a hot topic on social networks and media across the globe.
She’s become the go-to saint for protection against contagions, even though she has long been associated with issues related to money, such as gambling and treasure hunting.
“I never heard of St. Corona until today,” said John Boyle, chairman of the Catholic Studies department at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. “It doesn’t surprise me that there’s a St. Corona whose been languishing for years. It’s like finding an uncle that you’ve never met.”
That Catholics have rediscovered her after centuries of obscurity is a sign of the world’s search for hope during troubling times, he said.
“I think many people look for something stable, secure, enduring,” said Boyle. “For Catholics, one of the avenues is saints.”
The Catholic Church has thousands of saints, including those being named today. Corona was an early Christian martyr allegedly killed by Romans for consoling a Christian man who was being tortured, then professing her own faith.
She allegedly had a vision of two crowns descending from the sky, one for herself and one for her fellow Christian.
Hence the name Corona, which means “crown” in Latin. The coronavirus, meanwhile, gets its name from the crown-like spikes on its surface.
Corona’s remains are buried in northern Italy, the epicenter of Europe’s worst outbreak of the disease. For believers, that is more than coincidence.
They also find it remarkable that a cathedral in southern Germany just happens to be removing a St. Corona shrine out of storage and preparing it for exhibition this year. The shrine, which contains relics from the saint, was scheduled for exhibition long before the virus appeared.
These developments have made headlines in Catholic social media and publications, as well as in general publications.
Those times are prompting big demand for all things St. Corona. The Sophia Institute Press, a Catholic publisher in New Hampshire, last week decided to print its first run of St. Corona prayer cards. Thousands sold out immediately, and a second run is in the works, said Sarah Lemieux, publicity coordinator.
“It’s been crazy,” Lemieux said.
Michael Naughton, director of the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas, finds the situation intriguing.
“It seems almost an extraordinary happenstance that a virus goes from China to northern Italy, where St. Corona is buried,” Naughton said.
“She was not the saint of pandemics, but now we’re making her a saint of pandemics,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any problem with that. Saints are historical, but they also respond to the times in which we’re in.”
When it comes to pandemics, St. Edmund the Martyr, who died in 869 in England, has long been considered the patron saint of pandemic victims, according to Aleteia. But he’s not making headlines, because he’s got the wrong name.
While St. Corona’s history has little to do with protecting against disease, she provides an inspiring example of how to behave when faced with life-or-death situations, said Naughton. She offered consolation to a suffering man.
“In this crisis, do we go out and buy as much toilet paper as we can — or do we show love for one another?” Naughton asked. “If St. Corona can help us do that, let’s use it.”