As novel coronavirus COVID-19 swept the majority Catholic country of Italy in March 2020, rumors appeared that Italians had begun praying to a St. Corona — who was, incidentally, “the patron saint of epidemics.”
A March 11 post to the site Gloria.tv was titled “There Is A SAINT CORONA, And She Is the Patron Saint Against EPIDEMICS,” which claimed:
Saint Corona was only fifteen when she professed her Christian Faith during the persecution of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius around 165.
Corona was arrested and tied by her feet to the tops of two palm trees which were bent to the ground. When the palms were let loose she was torn apart. According to the Roman Martyrology, this happened in Syria.
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.
It was easy enough to verify the existence of a Saint Corona, but the aspect of her purported association with protection against epidemics was a bit iffy:
I have seen several places where St Corona is patron saint of treasure hunters but I can’t find where it states that she is patron saint of epidemics or pandemics. Can someone provide that information for me?
Word of the rumor made its way to a Catholic forum:
While it seems fitting to ask for her intercession with this virus, I couldn’t find any corroboration that St. Corona was previously invoked against epidemics. I read on Wikipedia that she is the patron saint for gamblers and treasure hunters. So is this a new practice that has arisen now in Italy?
The patron saints against epidemics are St. Roch, the Four Holy Marshals and the Fourteen Holy Helpers. Aleteia had a story last week recommending some patron saints for pandemics[.]
Someone else on the forum claimed:
So there is a town named Sankt Corona am Wechsel south of Vienna in Lower Austria with a church of the same name, and its website states that St. Corona is invoked for steadfastness in faith, against natural disasters, crop failures, and epidemics/pestilence, and for help with smaller difficulties of daily life. This dates back to the 16th century.
That commenter linked to a page in German, which was indeed headlined “Patroness against epidemics, Holy Corona, pray for us.” That page was published on March 11 2020, after COVID-19 became a pandemic in Italy:
According to the Ecumenical Encyclopedia of Saints, she is the patron saint against epidemics. But much of her existence remains in the dark, just like the origins of the treacherous epidemic.
There are Corona pilgrimages in Lower Austria in St. Corona am Wechsel, and in 1504 a Corona statue was found there in a hollow linden tree and a chapel was then built, as the Heiligenlexikon further reports. Her veneration is also widespread in St. Corona am Schöpfl near Altenmarkt (Lower Austria) and in Vienna. The fact that the Austrian coin unit was called the “crown” until 1924 is probably due to the fact that Corona is not only the patron saint against epidemics, but is also called for help in money matters, in the search for treasure and even in the lottery.
Another page was linked in German; it translated as the “Ecumenical Encyclopedia of Saints.” Using the site’s search tool, we did locate an entry for a St. Corona. Near the bottom, it read:
Attributes: two palms, crown, with gold piece or Schatzkästchen
Patron of Castelfidardo and Osimo ; the treasure hunter and butcher; against epidemics and storms, for steadfastness in faith; in money matters, the lottery
The coronavirus which causes COVID-19 was not discovered until December 2019, with the earliest case eventually traced back to late November 2019 in China.
We accessed a copy of the St. Corona page archived in July 2017. A section for “attributes” and “patron” of appeared, but without the inclusion of epidemics:
Attributes: on two palm trees, crown, with gold piece or treasure chest
Patroness of Castelfidardo and Osimo; in money matters, the lottery, treasure hunters and butchers
The Internet Archive appeared to have an August 2019 capture of the page, one which would definitively demonstrate whether the “against epidemics” section was added after COVID-19 started making headlines. However, clicking the August 2019 link led to a March 12 2020 capture of the page — published after Gloria.tv’s viral post made the claim.
A broad search for mentions of the obscure Saint Corona and epidemics (singular or plural) restricted to entries in or before September 2019 did not yield any results other than a single misdated Italian reference from Facebook. Saint Corona clearly did exist before COVID-19 hit Italy (and the rest of the world), but by all accounts, she was not widely venerated.
As for faithful Italian Catholics, they did plead for intercession from patron saints. However, The Guardian reported that residents of Palermo sought help from their patron, Saint Rosalia. Italy’s patron saints were St. Francis of Assisi and St. Catherine of Siena.
Like places, epidemics do have patron saints. A Wikipedia list of the patron saints of ailments, illnesses, and dangers show that St. Roch (or Rocco) was the only specific patron saint of epidemics. In terms of plague, the martyr St. Sebastian is commonly associated with the black death in Europe. The site Catholic Saint Medals lists St. Roch, St. Remigius, and St. Francis Xavier as patron saints of epidemics.
Historically, a little-known Saint Corona did exist, and after Italy was hammered by COVID-19, rumors circulated that she happened to be the “patron saint of epidemics.” A German-language source appeared to substantiate the claim that Saint Corona and epidemics were associated before coronavirus became notable in December 2019. However, viewing archived revisions of the page indicated that “epidemics” may have been added to the page around the time Gloria.tv’s blog post began circulating.
Saint Corona was invoked for intercession on matters of money, luck, and hunting; St. Roch is the primary patron saint of epidemics (with St. Sebastian getting an honorable mention). The claim was interesting only because of the purported link between St. Corona and epidemics, but that link quickly vanished when we examined dates and edit histories.