Most saints have a clear role – the muscular Saint Christopher helps travelers, Saint Florian is the patron saint of firefighters, and Saint George the dragon killer the original first responder – horses for courses. Saint Corona, on the other hand, has a lot to do: She is responsible for money, butchers, gravediggers and bad weather. And she is also there to protect us from plagues. A woman’s work is never done!
It seems an unhappy chance that she shares her name with the current coronavirus sweeping the globe. But coincidence it is not: In her primary role of caring for money, she is often depicted wearing a crown, an ancient and universal icon for currencies. As the microscope images splashed across magazine covers and newsfeeds show us every day, the deadly bug, too, is named for its resemblance to a crown.
The story of her life is hazy and the legends often contradict. The then Emperor Aurelius (about 165 CE) was dealing with multiple problems, among them the deadly Antonine plague, for which popular opinion blamed the Christians. In the following persecution, St. Victor (in modern Syria) was tortured and Corona, either his daughter, wife or just a charitable acquaintance, went to his aid. As punishment, she was sentenced to be strung between two bent palm trees and torn apart. Medieval iconography shows her either with her golden crown – or with palm fronds and a bare head: money person or care-giver.
In the hotbed of the coronavirus in Northern Italy, in the small town of Anzù, there is a basilica, where her relics may still be slumbering. Most probably, though, they were taken to Aachen in Germany in about 1000. Even today she is especially venerated in Austria and Bavaria on her saint’s day of May 14. By then, we hope, her name will have retreated from the headlines in time for the feast.
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