Friday, September 4, 2009

Dogs in Religion - Saint Roch

I am a non-religious person myself, but the subject of dogs and religion is endlessly fascinating to me. I'll be revisiting it from time to time in this blog.

In general, dogs tend to get a pretty bad rap in most religions. Muslims claim that their holy texts label dogs as unclean, and hence devout believers don't tend to keep dogs as pets. The Christian Bible doesn't have a lot to say about dogs (presumably they were aboard Noah's ark), and when it does mention them, it's usually in derogatory fashion. Hinduism and Buddhism are both kinder -- they pretty much have to value all life, as that cur in the street just might be the reincarnation of your deceased grandmother.

I recently stumbled over mention of Saint Roch (also known as Saint Rocco), the patron saint of dogs. I hadn't known there was one.

The story goes that Saint Roch was born into a French noble family in 1285, but that he had an affinity for the poor and the sick rather than the well-to-do. When he was orphaned at age 20, he proceeded to give his fortune to the poor and take the road of a mendicant pilgrim. In his travels, he stopped to minister to victims of the plague, and is supposed to have affected several miraculous cures by making the sign of the cross over the sufferers. But he himself contracted the disease and took himself into the forest to die. Instead, a dog cared for him, bringing him food stolen from the table of the dog's master, and licking his wounds. Saint Roch recovered and returned home, only to be charged with spying and thrown into jail. He was jailed for 5 years and never mentioned his noble connections, and died in prison in 1327.
His Feast Day is August 16.

I've known a few dogs named "Rocco." I don't know if their owners were aware of the patron saint of dogdom, or if "Rocco" just sounded good with "Rottweiler." But I'm glad to know that dogs have a patron saint.

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