The "Fourteen Holy Helpers" are a group of saints venerated together in Roman Catholicism because their intercession was thought to be particularly effective, especially against various diseases. This group of Nothelfer ("helpers in need") originated in the 14th century at first in the Rhineland, largely as a result of the epidemic (probably of bubonic plague) that became known as the Black Death.
At the heart of the fourteen were three virgin martyrs:
Sankt Margaretha mit dem Wurm,
Sankt Barbara mit dem Turm,
Sankt Katharina mit dem Radl,
das sind die heiligen drei Madl. Saint Margaret with the dragon
Saint Barbara with the tower
Saint Katharine with the wheel
those are the three holy maids.
As the other saints began to be invoked along with these three virgin martyrs, they were represented together in artwork. Popular veneration of these saints often began in a monastery that held their relics. All of the saints except Giles were martyrs.
Saint Christopher and Saint Giles were invoked against the plague itself. Saint Denis was prayed to for relief from headache, Saint Blaise for ills of the throat, Saint Elmo, for abdominal maladies, Saint Barbara for the febrile, and Saint Vitus against epilepsy. Saint Pantaleon was the patron of physicians, Saint Cyriacus invoked against temptation on the deathbed, and Saints Christopher, Barbara, and Catherine for protection against a sudden and unprovided death. Saint Giles was prayed to for a good confession, and Saint Eustace as patron of family troubles. Domestic animals were also attacked by the plague, and so Saints George, Elmo, Pantaleon, and Vitus were invoked for their protection. Saint Margaret of Antioch is the patron of safe childbirth.
As the saints' joint "cultus" spread in the sixteenth century, Pope Nicholas V attached indulgences to devotion of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, though these no longer apply. While each had a separate feast day, the Fourteen Holy Helpers were in some places celebrated as a group on August 8, but this celebration never became part of the General Roman Calendar for universal veneration. When that calendar was revised in 1969 (see the Roman Catholic calendar of saints), the individual celebrations of St Barbara, St Catherine of Alexandria, St Christopher, and St Margaret of Antioch were dropped, but in 2004 Pope John Paul II reinstated the November 25 optional memorial of Catherine of Alexandria, whose voice was heard by Saint Joan of Arc. The individual celebrations of all fourteen are included in the General Roman Calendar as in 1954, the General Roman Calendar of Pope Pius XII and the General Roman Calendar of 1962.
Comparable to the cult of the Fourteen Holy Helpers was that of the Four Holy Marshals, who were also venerated in the Rhineland as "Marshals of God." These were Quirinus of Neuss, Saint Anthony the Great, Pope Cornelius, and Saint Hubert.
|Name (Alternate)||Feast day||Patronage|
|Agathius (Acacius)||May 8||Against headache|
|December 4||Against fever and sudden death|
|(Blase, Blasius)||February 3||Against illness of the throat|
|Catherine of Alexandria||November 25||Against sudden death|
|July 25||Against bubonic plague|
|Cyriacus||August 8||Against temptation on the death-bed|
|Denis (Dionysus)||October 9||Against headache|
|(Elmo)||June 2||Against intestinal ailments|
|(Eustachius, Eustathius)||September 20||Against family discord|
|April 23||For the health of domestic animals|
|(Aegidius)||September 1||Against plague, for a good confession|
|Margaret of Antioch||July 20||During childbirth|
|(Panteleimon)||July 27||For physicians|
|Vitus (Guy)||June 15||Against epilepsy|
For one or another of the saints in the original set, Anthony the Anchorite, Leonard of Noblac, Nicholas, Sebastian, Oswald the King, Pope Sixtus II, Apollonia, Dorothea of Caesarea, Wolfgang of Regensburg or Roch were sometimes substituted. In France an extra "helper" is added, the Virgin Mary.
The Fourteen Holy Helpers are honored in Bavaria as the "vierzehn Heiligen," and the Basilica of the Vierzehnheiligen is dedicated to these "Helper Saints." The Rococo pilgrimage church in the hamlet of Bad Staffelstein was designed by Balthasar Neumann and built between 1743 and 1772.
Devotion to these saints began in that region on September 24, 1445 when Hermann Leicht, the young shepherd of a nearby Franciscan monastery, saw a crying child in a field that belonged to the nearby Cistercian monastery of Langheim. As he bent down to pick up the child, it abruptly disappeared. A short time later, the child reappeared in the same spot. This time, two candles were burning next to it. In June 1446, Leicht saw the child a third time. This time, the child bore a red cross on its chest and was accompanied by thirteen other children. The child said: "We are the fourteen helpers and wish to erect a chapel here, where we can rest. If you will be our servant, we will be yours!" Shortly after, Leicht saw two burning candles descending to this spot. It is alleged that miraculous healings soon began, through the intervention of the fourteen saints.
The Cistercian brothers to whom the land belonged erected a chapel, which immediately attracted pilgrims. An altar was consecrated as early as 1448. Pilgrimages to the Vierzehnheiligen continue to the present day between May and October.