What are the chances that the Catholic Church would have a saint named Corona and that she happens to be the patron saint of pandemics? Even stranger, her mortal remains lie in the Basilica of Anzu, in northern Italy, near the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Europe earlier this year. Some might rush to conclude that it’s the end of the world as we know it. Instead, maybe we should rush to pray for greater understanding and deeper faith.
According to Christian legend, Corona lived in Syria during the second century of the current era. She was a Christian in Roman occupied land where Christianity was outlawed and punishable by death or torture. According to hagiographical writings—biographies of holy people—she was fifteen or sixteen in or around the year 170 when a Roman soldier named Victor was discovered to be a Christian. As she witnessed his public martyrdom, she stepped in to help him and, subsequently, professed her own faith in Jesus. She, likewise, was killed. In the first three centuries of Christianity, most, if not all, of our saints were martyrs—those who were witnesses for Christ to the point of death. Venerated by the early church, their earthly remains often got saved and taken to holy places, or their burial spots became sanctuaries. Somehow, the remains of Victor and Corona made their way to Christians living in modern Italy. Though it would be tough to verify exactly whose remains they are, the relics at Anzu were recently determined to, in fact, be those of a young man and woman who lived at that time of the Christian persecutions.
“Corona” is the Latin word for crown and “Victor” refers to the reward or victory given to those who are faithful. They may have been their actual names or might have been names given to them by early Christians for their dying acts of courage. Corona’s feast day is celebrated on May 14 in certain regions of the world, especially in Bavaria and Austria, where she was named patroness of epidemics or contagious infections. Though I don’t know what this means in the greater mysteries of our faith, it gives us pause to reflect even more deeply in our places of isolation and social distancing. Perhaps it should also inspire us to pray more fervently. Maybe by May 14, our world will return to more normal operations and our prayers for healing will transform to prayers of gratitude and Saint Corona will be revered for her help in getting us through the horrible virus.
This presumes, of course, that we believe that earth and heaven are interconnected, that our physical realm is in touch with a more profound spiritual world that wants to assist us to get from here to there. I can’t begin to grasp how such divine mysteries work; the human mysteries of my smart phone baffle me daily. Nevertheless, I trust that God and His saints are working for a greater good and that we can each share in the victorious crown that awaits those who make the world better and who are willing to sacrifice for that greater good.
Saint Corona, pray for us!