Tilman Riemenschneider of the Day: Auxiliary Saints

Holy Helpers

Twelve out of the “Fourteen Holy Helpers” or “Auxiliary Saints” are depicted here. The auxiliary saints, a medieval grouping that began in the Rhineland and spread elsewhere in western Europe, were those thought to have especially effective intercession against diseases and at the hour of death: Acacius, Barbara, Blaise, Catherine of Alexandria, Christopher, Cyricus, Denys, Erasmus, Eustace, George, Giles, Margaret of Antioch, Pantaleon, and Vitus. Substitutes for one or another of these saints include Antony, Leonard, Nicholas, Sebastian, or Roch.

The cult of the holy helpers was suppressed at the Reformation and after Trent, but of course the intercession of saints in times of illness or near death remains important in Catholicism. If we were to identify saints whose intercession we particularly desire in those times of our lives, who would be on the list today I wonder?

The elegance and detail of the carved figures are typical of Riemenschnieder. I find this set of figures especially lively because of the way they all seem to be pulling in the same direction.

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12 comments

  1. I have always thought of the “companion martryrs” of the early modern and modern period as helper saints: The English and Welsh Martyrs (especially St. Margaret Clitherow, to whom I have a particular veneration), the Martyrs of Japan and of Korea, the Martyrs of Uganda, and all who chose witness to Christ and a zeal to spread the Gospel under the duress of persecution. These saints stood fast by one another in this witness to Christ, and so are great examples of mutual charity and trust. Perhaps these are more recent examples which could serve as helper saints of a more recent age.

    1. @crystal watson – comment #2:

      I have the same question, though I would go a step further and ask if petitionary and intercessory prayer is effective, whether directed to a saint or to God.

  2. I pray to Mary Helen MacKillop when I pray for people struggling with their relationship with a heirarch or with a church ruling that seems unfair. Also, growing up, we had a relic of St. Gerard, which my mother and an aunt passed between each other for their pregnancies.

    1. @crystal watson – comment #5:

      The intercession of confessors and martyrs, especially at the time of death, is not about miracles. We are all confessors of the faith, regardless of the circumstances of our life and death.

    1. @crystal watson – comment #7:
      Hi Crystal,

      Do you ever ask anyone (a living person) to pray for you?

      To me, the intercession of the saints is an extension of what we do when we ask someone to pray for us on earth — only these saints are in heaven, not next door. It’s part of our communal life before God to pray for one another.

  3. Hi Rita,

    I do sometimes ask. It’s weird because in theory I don’t see any reason why that should do any more good than me myself praying for something. I guess it’s more a way to share how I’m feeling with that other person than an actual hope that their prayer will find more results than mine alone. If it *did* make a practical difference, what would that say about God … eeek! 🙁

  4. PS – I do pray for other people too and it’s probably the biggest part of my prayer life to pray for the health/safety of my loved ones. But again, part of me realizes it doesn’t make sense …. won’t God help them as much as he can whether I nag him about it or not?

  5. Crystal

    Jesus expressly invited his followers to pray together for each other. In the Catholic view, this is also an invitation for his followers to join in the Divine action – it’s an extension of agency into time and space.

  6. Thanks, Karl. It makes such a difference whether prayer changes only us, our attitudes, or changes events (and God’s actions – Divine Agency). I don’t know what to believe about this. Must read up on it.

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