perpetual fear

corona edition

deze pagina in het Nederlands

see also the main article on the series perpetual fear

The plague is an epidemic, sometimes pandemic disease that struck Europe particularly severely in the early christian era and the fourteenth century. The Black Death of 1347–51 probably killed off one in three Europeans, but over the succeeding centuries there still were terrible outbreaks in for instance Amsterdam, London and Marseilles. The last great European plague epidemic was in the Provence in 1720–22.

In Medieval times an outbreak was generally perceived as a punishment from God, usually for that all-time favorite perception of increasing overall wickedness. Attempts to ward off this collective punishment collectively, like the Flagellants who walked in the rhythm of the lash from town to town, were of course counterproductive. The less engaged believer was left with recourse to the intercession of a saint, and from the fourteenth century onwards, a popular cult arose, centering on a very large number of plague saints.

A very special group of plague saints are the so-called Holy Helpers, an also collectively venerated company of fourteen saints, on which seven years ago Christina de Vos based the first works in her series perpetual fear. In those days her personal life seemed to be full of insecurity, confusion, ambiguity and inconvenience, but since a new plague is roaming the world, those feelings are shared by nearly everyone, everywhere. That is why perpetual fear had to have a legacy, a miniseries of twenty two postcard-sized works: six female and six male plague saints, five animals that are ancillary to them, and five Virgin Marys.

The corona edition of perpetual fear came into being on an initiative of the Zeeland Art Center, that during the lockdown operates a webshop that sells works for the fixed price of 100 euros. Of Christina's series, only the recently added Marys (our lady of the plague) are still for sale. All works are postcard-sized (15 x 10.5 cm), in mixed media on paper.

miss corona

miss corona I

Saint Barbara of Nicomedia

late third century, feast day December 4

Together with Catherine and Margaret (miss corona II & V), Barbara is one of the Three Holy Virgins, the central group within the Fourteen Holy Helpers that were the original core of the series perpetual fear. Barbara, a Christian convert, was the daughter of a Roman nobleman. To hide her from the gaze of eager suitors, she was locked up in a tower. After her miraculous escape, she was betrayed and subsequently beheaded by her father (who was instantly struck by lightning). The intercession of Saint Barbara includes protection against fire, lightning, sudden death (without having received the last rites), and she is the patron saint of many dangerous professions.

miss corona II

Saint Margaret of Antioch

late third century, feast day July 20

Margaret was a Christian shepherdess from the Roman era. Looking for a lost sheep, she wandered into town, where she caught the eye of the city's prefect. He asked for her hand in marriage, on condition that she renounced her faith, which she of course refused. Margaret was locked up and visited by the devil in the form of a dragon, who devoured her. With the help of her crucifix she however escaped with her life, which made her the patron saint of midwives, invoked against difficult childbirth, and abdominal pains in general. Ultimately, she too was beheaded (and again the executioner died on the spot). She was fifteen years old. Together with the saints Michael and Catherine (miss corona V), hers is also one of the three 'voices' of Joan of Arc.

miss corona III

Saint Mary Magdalene

first century, feast day July 22

Mary Magdalene is one of the thirty six (!) patron saints against unknown diseases, and also against eye diseases and the plague. After the death of Jesus she preached the gospels, was persecuted, and fled on a ship that was adrift. It landed near Marseille in Gaul, where she lived anonymously in a cave until the day she died. Her cult of the repentant sinner originated against the backdrop of a plague epidemic in late antiquity and henceforth collective repentance as protection against contagious diseases has been a mainstay of the Christian Church. On the other hand, her sinful past as a temptress (Jesus exorcized no less than seven demons out of her) has never been forgotten. Not only is she the patron saint of repentant women, but also that of sex workers, hairdressers, tailors, comb makers, and perfumers.

miss corona IV

Saint Gertrude of Nivelles

c. 628–c. 659, feast day March 17

Gertrudis was the daughter of a majordomo, an ancestor of Charlemagne. Her mother and sister were also canonized. She succeeded her mother as abbess of the convent she entered when she was maybe twelve, and died there at the age of about thirty. This decidedly boring biography is jazzed up by a number of miracles, notably the one in which she was tempted by the devil, who had taken the form of a mouse. Her prayers, and water from the well and bread from the oven of the convent, are said to have caused an exodus of mice and rats. From the eighties onward, through this reputation as exterminator of pests, she regained some of her popularity as the unofficial patron saint of cats.

miss corona V

Saint Catherine of Alexandria

c. 287–c. 305, feast day November 25

Catherine was the daughter of the Roman governor of Alexandria. Like it befits one of the Three Holy Virgins, she declined a marriage proposal she really could not refuse, the more so because it was from the emperor himself. Forty philosophers tried to reconvert her to paganism, but instead she converted them to Christianity. The philosophers were then burned alive, a fate that awaited her too, if not for a miraculous wind that redirected the flames and set alight her executioners. An attempt to break her on the wheel was also thwarted by divine intervention (she is usually depicted with the broken wheel). At long last she too was beheaded; the milk that flowed from her neck saved the city from a plague epidemic.

miss corona VI

Three Holy Sisters

This trio of holy women originated from a pagan cult of three mother goddesses. They lived in different centuries, so they are not related. Saint Gertrude (miss corona IV) is often depicted as their mother, but also, bizarrely, Saint Bertilia of Maroeuil, who is also one of the sisters! Bertilia and Saint Eutropia of Rheims are rather obscure saints: by far the most famous is Saint Genevieve of Paris, the patron saint of the city (during the French Revolution, her church was rebranded as the Panthéon). A procession of her relics is said to have saved Paris from an epidemic.

corona boys

corona boy I

Saint Anthony

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

Saint Sebastian

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

Saint Adrian

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

Saint Roch

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

Saint Christopher

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.

plague creatures

plague creature I — the deer of Saint Hubertus

plague creature II — I am a free pig (thank you Saint Anthony)

plague creature III — the dragon of Saint Margaret

plague creature IV — the bread hound of Saint Roch

plague creature V — the bear of Saint Eligius

our lady of the plague

our lady of the plague I (the masks)

our lady of the plague II (the robes)

our lady of the plague III (the dogs)

our lady of the plague IV (burning heart)

our lady of the plague V (snake mary)