ST. ROCH, Dyker Heights

by Kevin Walsh

I was fooled the other day when, stumbling through Dyker Heights, I spotted a lawn icon showing a bit of leg. I was reminded of St. Peregrine of the Friar Order of the Servants of Mary (the Servites) , the patron saint of cancer sufferers, showing off the varicose vein that went untreated and became cancerous. He was later miraculously cured.

I have been told, though, that there is more than one saint showing off a leg wound, and this one happens to be St. Roch or St. Rocco (spellings vary by country). Traditionally invoked for help against the bubonic plague in the 14th Century, the legend of Roch was actually based on an older figure, St. Racho, who lived in the 7th Century:

According to the doctoral thesis of history student Pierre Bolle in 2001, Saint Roch is a hagiographical doublet of a more ancient saint, Saint Racho of Autun who died about 660 AD. Racho was invoked for protection against storms and Bolle believes that his name was the basis of the name of this saint and of his patronage of plague-sufferers via a process of aphaeresis of the Old French word for a storm, (“tempeste”) to “-peste” (plague). This also accords with equilibrium of humours theory of medieval medicine that held that illness could be caused by corruption of the air. wikipedia

The 14th Century Roch, according to legend, hailed from Montpelier, France, a follower of St. Francis who ministered to the sick during one of the waves of black plague that spread through Europe. After contracting the plague himself he retreated to a forest and made a hut for himself from leaves and boughs, and was supplied with bread and water from a neighboring town by a helpful nobleman’s dog he had befriended (hence the image of a dog in his iconography). He was later accused of spying against the local government and died in prison.

During subsequent attacks of the plague throughout Europe, his name was invoked and a cult sprung up around his name. Churches and cathedrals were dedicated to him, as well as entire religious orders. ‘Roch’s status as a pilgrim who suffered plague is paramount in his iconography. “The sight of Roch scarred by the plague yet alive and healthy must have been an emotionally charged image of a promised cure. Here was literal proof that one could survive the plague, a saint who had triumphed over the disease in his own flesh.” ‘



Nirmal March 30, 2014 - 3:13 pm

Im sorry, i dont mean to mock anyone’s religion, but that statue is unintentionally funny, the way he’s showing off that gam.

Mike March 31, 2014 - 10:09 am

Hi Kevin, As a Catholic and historian, I love how you cover both so well on your website 🙂

Chaz April 2, 2014 - 9:34 pm

In the Philippines, “San Roque” as he is know there, was once a very commonly venerated saint. The wound on his leg was originally a “bubo” or swollen lymph gland, which was one of the symptoms of the bubonic plague. The old carved santos found in the Philippines also commonly show San Roque pointing out his wound.


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