By Christina Grand Porter
The coronavirus pandemic has the faithful grasping for hope in many places, most recently from a little-known Catholic saint who died 1,800 years ago. In March 2020, as the COVID-19 coronavirus disease spread around the globe, many social media users encountered a rumor that was almost too perfect to believe: A “patron of saint of plagues” or “pandemics” existed, and she shared a name with the virus at the center of the outbreak: Corona.
The story of St. Corona is murky, with experts disagreeing over whether she born in France, Syria or Sicily. She is believed to have been the 16-year-old wife of a Roman soldier, who either was or was a comrade of St. Vincent, in Damascus circa 160. It’s most widely believed that she lived during the second century, in Roman-occupied Syria, where Christianity was outlawed.
Aachen Cathedral, in western Germany, one of Europe’s oldest, is said to house relics of St. Corona, an early Christian martyr who was allegedly killed by Romans for consoling St. Victor, a Christian man who was being tortured, and then professing her own faith. For his Christian beliefs in violation of Roman law, Vincent was tortured and beheaded. Corona was tied between bent palm trees and ripped apart when the trunks snapped erect. Before her death, 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. St. Corona has now become the go-to saint for protection against contagions and plague, even though she has long been associated with issues related to money, such as gambling and treasure hunting.
Aachen Cathedral began renewing its focus on Saint Corona more than a year ago, well before the virus emerged as a public health threat. Originally, Aachen Cathedral had planned to put the saint’s golden shrine on public view in the summer of 2020, as part of an exhibit on goldsmithery. Ironically, at a time when believers might be more drawn to Saint Corona than ever, the cathedral may have to postpone the exhibit if the virus crisis has not abated by summer.
Corona’s earthly remains are buried in a basilica in Anzù, in northern Italy, the epicenter of Europe’s worst outbreak of the disease. For believers, it is more than a coincidence that the remains of Saint Victor and Saint Corona have been preserved there, at the hotbed of the coronavirus, since the 9th century.
Saint Corona is especially venerated in Austria and Bavaria as the patron-saint of treasure hunters and against epidemics. Her feast day is May 14. Perhaps St. Corona has been gifted to the world anew at a critical time, and she and all the Catholic saints are praying for us during these distressing and difficult events.