May 14 marks the feast of Saint Corona. Is it any wonder that the mask order shielding us from coronavirus is lifted on her day? Her fame got resurrected last year when word spread that she, ironically, is the patron saint of pandemics. She had a cult following among early Christians, a common practice toward martyrs of the fledgling faith movement. According to legendary accounts, she intervened when a young soldier named Victor was tortured and killed in Syria for professing Christianity during the second century. Because of her act, she was martyred alongside him.
Their names may not be those given them in life but assigned to them in death: his name refers to the victory that is won by those who follow Jesus in the ultimate sacrifice of laying down their own lives, and hers indicates the crown that is bestowed in heaven upon those whose dying action attests to their love of God. As was customary in those days, relics of martyrs were taken to various places to help expand the faith “to the ends of the earth.” Like so many early Christian saints, these two were mostly forgotten; but as Covid-19 spread faster than Christianity last year they regained attention.
Though the outbreak began in China, one of the first epicenters for escalation of the virus in early 2020 was northern Italy, near Anzu, a place that, according to claims, housed some of the relics (body parts) of Saints Corona and Victor. Though Corona did not have much of a following in her native home near the holy land, nor in Italy, she gained a strong following in Bavaria and Austria. According to historical accounts, some of the relics of Saint Corona were taken to Aachen Cathedral in Germany by King Otto III in the tenth century and kept in a tomb buried beneath the floor. The Aachen Cathedral had been built by Charlemagne the century before and became the spot for coronations of German kings and queens, as well as the final resting place for Charlemagne, himself. During the past year, Corona’s remains have been exhumed and given a place of prominence for visitors to venerate. As pilgrimages to that destination resume while vaccines overpower the virus, I suspect tourism will also increase in the tiny village of Austria called Saint Corona. Known for its skiing, hiking, and mountain bike trails, it can now also boast as the only known municipality dedicated to the patronage and protection of Saint Corona long before the pandemic.
None of us knows the mysterious workings of the spiritual world that exist beyond our grasp, though we catch glimpses from time to time. The past year or so has given us pause to contemplate Saint Corona and the mystery that surrounds her. It wouldn’t hurt on her feast day, as government leaders tell us that the plague is over, to say a prayer of gratitude and ask assistance to overcome not just the medical virus but the virus of sin in our world and to trust in the vaccine of Christ’s teachings to guide us beyond our struggles through His divine mercy and love.
I also ought to note that May 14 is the feast day of Saint Matthias on most liturgical calendars while Saint Corona is relegated to a few regional ones (like Austria and parts of Germany). Matthias, as you may recall, was the thirteenth apostle—the one elected to take the place of Judas. He is, in a way, symbolic of us all, for we are each invited to take our place among those chosen by the Lord. It is, therefore, also a good day for us to contemplate our role in Christ’s company, particularly in this mysterious time in which we find our way beyond corona.