Stories of the Saints - Grace Hall

St Roch and his Dog

St Roch was born at Montpelier in Languedoc of rich and honoured parents, who brought him up to lead a life devoted to the service of God, although they did not directly dedicate him to the priesthood.

At their death, when he was twenty years old, he sold all those of his possessions with which he was empowered to part, gave the proceeds to the poor, left the remainder under the care of an uncle, and donning a pilgrim's robe, set out on foot for Rome.

Having reached Acquapendente, he found the town in the clutches of a horrible plague; the sick and dying choked the streets. St Roch proceeded to the hospital and offered his services; there, until the plague had been checked, he remained ministering to the sick. His success was extraordinary. Such was his sympathy and his loving care of the stricken victims that his cures were miraculous, and his patients were healed by a prayer or a sign of the Cross made over them by him.

Hearing that the Romagna was also smitten he went on to Cesena and Rimini, then to Rome itself, everywhere bringing aid and healing to the most miserable and hopeless.

Finally at Piacenza, where there raged a form of the scourge more virulent than any he had yet encountered, he himself fell a prey to the disease. He awoke one night afire with fever, and with an ulcer on his right thigh the pain from which was so excruciating that he could not refrain from crying out aloud. Fearing to disturb the other sufferers in the hospital he stole out into the street. There the watchman would not permit him to remain, lest he spread the infection. So he crawled away beyond the city gates, and found refuge in a wood, where he knelt down to pray and to await death.

But he who had carried consolation to so many was not himself forsaken in his dark hour. As he prayed, a cloud descended from heaven, and where it rested upon the ground a spring gushed forth, from which St Roch drank and in whose water he bathed; and a little dog who had attached himself to him during his wanderings, and had faithfully followed him, now became his saviour. Daily he trotted off to the town, and returned at evening with a loaf of bread in his mouth, though none ever discovered where he obtained it.

So it was that Roch presently recovered and resumed his pilgrimage with his loving attendant at his heels. He this time bent his steps homeward, and, having arrived at Montpelier, found the country desolated with war. He himself, as he knelt at prayer in church, was arrested as a spy and thrown into prison. His long wanderings and sickness had so emaciated, aged, and changed him that no one, not even his uncle, who was the judge, recognized him.

Believing that God intended this affliction as a trial of his faith, St Roch bowed himself to the unjust sentence, and for five years remained in prison. One morning the jailer, entering with his daily portion of bread and water, was startled at sight of the great light that filled the cell. On the ground the prisoner lay dead, but beside him in writing were the details of his birth and identity. These words were also added: "Whosoever shall be smitten with the plague and have recourse to the intercession of Roch, the servant of God, shall be healed of his malady."

For in his sleep a voice had been heard by Roch offering him whatever he might ask, and he had prayed that all who asked his aid might be saved from death by plague.

His dead body was carried before the judge, his uncle, who grieved sincerely, and caused him to be buried amid the prayers and lamentations of all the town.

When the plague broke out in 1414 during the Council of Constance, and all the bishops and other dignitaries prepared to flee to safety, it was checked immediately upon the effigy of St Roch being carried through the streets.

Then, in 1485, the Venetians, who were constantly threatened with plague owing to their continual mercantile intercourse with the East, sent a company of men ostensibly on a pilgrimage to Montpelier, but in reality to steal the Saint's relics. They succeeded in securing the body, and with it returned triumphant to Venice, where it was received with joyous acclamation by the people headed by the Doge, the senate, and the clergy. The remains were interred in the Church of San Rocco built to receive them.

One wonders what became of the little dog. There is reason to hope that he remained with his friend to the end, to cheer his life in the dungeon and to share his honours after death, for one sees in picture and statue of the Saint, whether during the pilgrimage or in the prison, the little dog always at his side.