Did you know Aachen Cathedral, Western Germany, may be able to claim a special spiritual connection with the global coronavirus pandemic?
It is said that the cathedral, one of Europe’s oldest, house the relics of Saint Corona herself. What’s more, Saint Corona is believed to be the patron saint of protection against plague.
Ironically, locals had begun renewing its focus on Saint Corona more than a year ago, well before the novel virus had spread as a public health threat and, originally, Aachen Cathedral had planned to put the saint’s golden shrine on public view this summer as part of an exhibit on goldsmithery. However, at a time when believers might be more drawn to Saint Corona than ever, the cathedral may have to postpone the exhibit if the crisis has not abated by summer!
Despite public curiosity in Saint Corona has increased due to the coronavirus, actually little is known about her life or her remains. It’s believed that she lived during the second century, in Roman-occupied Syria, where Christianity was outlawed. When a Roman soldier was tortured after the discovery of his secret Christian faith, Corona decided to publicly profess her Christianity in an act of solidarity. As story goes, the Roman judge ultimately had both of them executed. Their remains may lie in Anzù, in northern Italy, at the 11th-century Basilica Sanctuary of Saints Victor (the roman soldier) and Corona (ironically, not far from one of the areas hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic).
According to some, in fact, Saint Corona’s remains are in Anzù, and not in Aachen, while other suggest that Corona is an invented figure, because the earliest records mentioning her emerged hundreds of years after her purported death, and the Roman legal system described in her story seems rather anachronistic.
In addition, Saint Corona could be not one of the patron saints of infectious disease, contrary to rumors that has been spreading in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak. Indeed, she could be invoked in connection with superstitions involving money, such as gambling, while other traditions hold that Saint Corona is the protector of lumberjacks, since she was martyred while tied to two trees.
In any case, it’s possible that different people have viewed the saint in different ways and, in fact, the veneration of saints is a very regional affair. For istance, Saint Edmund is another patron saint against plague, even though he didn’t become associated with plague until 700 years after his death. The reason? An outbreak of plague in Toulouse, Southern France, where Edmund’s relics were held, an event that caused the city’s residents to pray to him for protection.
Meanwhile, a similarly local interpretation of Saint Corona seems to have emerged in the town of Kirchberg am Wechsel, in eastern Austria, home to its own Parish Church of St. Corona (Pfarrkirche St. Corona). Church’s website in 2017, long before COVID-19, states that “Holy Corona serves as an advocate for requests for steadfastness in faith, for requests against storms and crop failures, for averting epidemics and for requests for help in the small needs of everyday life.” And it is possible that Saint Corona’s association with plague comes from Kirchberg am Wechsel, not from Aachen or Anzù.
However, another problem surrounds Saint Corona’s remains and their whereabouts. Could they be divided between Italy and Aachen, where Holy Roman Emperor Otto III delivered some of the relics in 997? Charlemagne is also buried at Aachen Cathedral, a historic coronation site for German kings and queens. Instead, the Pfarrkirche was built much later, in the 17th century, on the site of a statue of Saint Corona found in a tree, possibly placed there by the area’s lumberjacks.
In short: Saint Corona may have only been associated with disease in one small Austrian town, due to a statue in a tree and a specific confluence of local historical events. However, due a new disease that, ironically, takes her name, Saint Corona may now well become an international symbol of protection from disease, and this is how it’s happened, after all, with Saint Edmund in Toulouse….
Images from web – Google Research