The fourteen holy helpers in Catholicism date back to a crisis in the fourteenth century. From 1346 to 1353, approximately two out of three Europeans died from the bubonic plague. Known also as the Black Death, the disease was transmitted by flea-infested rats; as there was no known cure, more than 25 million people died during the plague’s seven-year rampage. Symptoms included swollen lymph nodes, breathing difficulties, fevers, chills, pains in the abdomen, arms, and legs, and blackened skin tissue brought about by gangrene.
As Europe was largely Roman Catholic during the Middle Ages, many turned to fourteen selected saints—the fourteen holy helpers—for healing and protection against the ravages of the bubonic plague. These fourteen saints, canonized by the Roman Catholic Church and credited with supernatural attributes, were believed to have the power to preserve and even heal those infected by this fatal disease. The fourteen saints chosen to be holy helpers are as follows:
• St. George — protector of animals, healer of herpetic diseases
• St. Blaise — healer of throat diseases
• St. Erasmus — protector of animals, healer of stomach/intestines, patron of sailors
• St. Pantaleon — healer of consumption, protector of animals, patron of doctors/midwives
• St. Vitus — healer of epilepsy, protection from animal bites, protection from storms, patron of actors/dancers
• St. Christopher — protection from sudden death, patron of travelers
• St. Denis — protection from demons, healer of headaches
• St. Cyriacus — healer of eye diseases, protection from demons, protection against temptation
• St. Acathius — healer of headaches, invoked during death’s agony
• St. Eustace — invoked against fire, invoked against family woes, patron of hunters
• St. Giles — protection from plagues, protection from nightmares, patron of beggars and the disabled, patron of breastfeeding
• St. Margaret — healer of backaches, patron of childbirth
• St. Catherine of Alexandria — healer of tongue diseases, patron of philosophers, patron of young women, patron of students
• St. Barbara — protection from fire/lightning, protection from sudden death, patron of artillerymen, patron of builders and miners
Officially, the Roman Catholic Church denies teaching their followers to pray to saints; rather, the faithful are instructed to seek the prayers of saints just as they would ask for intercessory prayers from living family members, friends, and other acquaintances. In practice, however, many Catholics pray directly to saints despite official church teachings. Nowhere in the Scriptures are we told to seek prayers from the dead. Attempts at communicating with the dead, which could be considered forms of necromancy, are unequivocally condemned in the Bible (Leviticus 20:5–8; Deuteronomy 18:9–12).
Furthermore, praying directly to the fourteen holy helpers or other saints for their blessing and favor is tantamount to idolatry (Exodus 20:3–6; Leviticus 19:4; Isaiah 45:20). Dead saints do not grant favors and blessings; God alone is the source of all goodness (2 Corinthians 9:8–10; Philippians 4:19–20; James 1:17–18).
When His disciples asked how they were to pray, the Lord Jesus instructed them to appeal directly to God the Father (Matthew 6:5–15) in the name of Christ Jesus (John 14:13–14). In other words, we come to the Father with our needs by the authority of the Son. As God is our Great Physician (Exodus 15:26; Psalm 103:3; Jeremiah 33:6), why should His people place their hope in the dead? On the contrary, James, our Lord’s half-brother, wrote, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (James 5:14–15, ESV).
Regardless of motive or intention, invoking favors from saints is a practice steeped in superstition, tradition, necromancy, and idolatry. Our “holy helper” is the Spirit of God, our Comforter and Paraclete. As believers in Christ Jesus, we can approach our Heavenly Father directly with our praise, concerns, questions, fears, and needs.