corona boy I
251?–356, feast day January 17
Anthony was a Roman-Egyptian hermit that sought God in the wilderness. When he is not depicted in his famous Temptation, we usually see him in the company of a pig, originally perhaps because this animal, with all that rooting in the soil, symbolised the earthly existence that was overcome by the anchorite. However, in Medieval times the presence of the pig was given a positive twist: Anthony, a strict vegetarian, nursed a sick pig to health and took it in as a pet. It was given a little bell, which it put to good use by reminding the saint of the canonical hours. The Order of Saint Anthony, whose lay brothers cared for sufferers from St. Anthony's fire and other contagious diseases, also had a porcine connection: they had permission to subsist on raising free-range pigs. A tantony, the runt of a sow's litter, was traditionally presented to the order.
corona boy II
c. 256–c. 288, feast day January 20
Sebastian was a captain in the Praetorian Guard under emperor Diocletian. When the latter found out that Sebastian was a Christian, he had him tied to a tree or post and riddled with arrows. However, this so-called first martyrdom didn't kill him, but when he, after his recovery, admonished the emperor for his persecution of Christians, he was taken to the Circus Maximus and clubbed to death, his second martyrdom. That he survived his first martyrdom, made him an excellent plague saint, for it was believed that the disease was caused by angels shooting plague arrows at humanity below, an echo of Zeus' thunderbolts that had the same effect on the Greeks before the walls of Troy (lightning was also associated with the plague).
corona boy III
died 306, feast day March 4
Adrian was an officer in the Roman army who one day had to torture a group of Christians to death. Immensely impressed by their courage, he immediately converted to Christianity, upon which he was martyred himself in a most gruesome way: his feet were crushed on an anvil, his hands were chopped off, and eventually he was beheaded. It might seem ironic that he became the patron saint of butchers and blacksmiths (like Sebastian that of archers and the roasted Lawrence that of cooks), but the executioners can also be seen as necessary vehicles for the martyr to attain sainthood. As patron saint of Lisbon, he is said to have saved the city from a plague epidemic.
corona boy IV
c. 1348–1376 or 1379, feast day August 16
Roch, or Rocco, is the plague saint par excellence: unlike all those saints that needed an analogy to get to be associated with the disease, Roch cured many plague sufferers on his pilgrimage to Rome, and survived the disease himself. After being infected, he retreated to a hut in a forest, where a well sprang up and a dog brought him bread each day. The animal also licked his wounds, which cured him (with Anthony's pig a very rare example of a positive portrayal of those two species). Roch is always depicted with a dog and a pustule on his leg, albeit rarely in the anatomically correct place, high up in the groin. As an afterthought, he is also the patron saint of the falsely accused: back home he was arrested for being a spy and he died in prison.
corona boy V
third century, feast day July 25
Christopher means Christ carrier, after the legend in which he ferried a child across a river on his broad back. The child became heavier and heavier and the river swoll to a torrent, almost drowning the gigantic saint. That child turned out to be Jesus, who subsequently baptised him and gave him his name. For various reasons Christopher is often depicted with the head of a dog, possibly after a mythical race, but maybe also because there was a mix-up of Canaan, his place of birth, and canine. Christopher is a plague saint because he, like Sebastian, survived a host of arrows: eventually he was decapitated. Today he is still popular as the patron saint of travellers.
corona boy VI: Saint Giles (c. 650–c. 710, feast day September 1)
Giles was a hermit who found solitude in a forest near Nîmes, where a hind daily fed him on its milk. This act of kindness made that it could elude the hunters who were after her. One day, however, the saint was hit by a stray arrow (and again the only reason why he was venerated as a plague saint, was the arrow wound). He survived the accident and is the only one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers that is not a martyr.