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The Fourteen Holy Helpers: Plague saints for a time of coronavirus

By this time in the coronavirus outbreak, you may have cruised the empty toilet paper aisles and pasta shelves at your local grocery store, and could have had moments of panic, or at least heightened anxiety.

With 13 U.S. states having declared a state of emergency over COVID-19, what was once an overseas worry is now stateside. And for the general population, being a part of something like this is a new, and disconcerting, experience.

But it’s not a new experience in the life of the Church.

In the middle of the 14th century, the plague – also called “The Black Death” – also also called “The Greatest Catastrophe Ever” – ravaged Europe, killing 50 million people, or about 60% of the population (a vastly higher death rate than coronavirus), within a few years.

Lacking the advances of modern medicine today, and layering dead bodies in pits like “lasagne with layers of pasta and cheese,” the people had no choice but to cling to their faith.

It was at this time that the Fourteen Holy Helpers – Catholics saints, all but one of whom were early martyrs – came to be invoked by Catholics against the plague and other misfortunes.

According to New Liturgical Movement, devotion to these 14 saints started in Germany at the time of the plague, and they were called “Nothelfer,” which in German means “helpers in need.”

As bouts of the plague resurfaced over the decades, devotion to the Holy Helpers spread to other countries, and eventually Nicholas V declared that devotion to the saints came with special indulgences.

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