The Patron Saint of Dogs – Introducing St. Roch

Today is August 16 and whilst for many it is a date of little note, for dogs and their owners it should be a reason to celebrate with parties, processions, and presents, given it is St. Roch’s day.

Still none the wiser? Then we’ll explain. 

Who was St. Roch? 

St. Roch (pronounced ‘rock’) is the patron saint of dogs. As the history goes, he born near Montpellier in the South of France around 1295. If you are lucky enough to visit this great French city, then be sure to visit the Church of Saint Roch and admire a stained-glass window featuring a likeness of this venerated saint. 

Inside of Church of Saint Roch – a statue of the saint with a dog can be seen on the right

When he was about 20, his parents died – most likely from the plague cutting a swathe through Europe’s population at the time. This tragic event led the young Roch to embark on a pilgrimage through France and Italy, helping the sick and hoping to cure victims of the deadly plague. 

As you might expect, being exposed to so many unfortunate people with this highly contagious and deadly disease made Roch vulnerable, and he did eventually catch the plague himself. However, he was so righteous and selfless that he chose not to go to hospital and occupy a bed, but rather let others more deserving receive the rudimentary treatments available. 

Why is St. Roch associated with dogs? 

Depending on which version of the legend you read, Roch crawled or was banished into nearby woods where he could die quietly. However, a local dog adopted him, brought him food and licked his wounds to help ease his suffering. 

It was the actions of this generous and loving canine – demonstrating all the recognisable characteristics that we all love in our pets today – that helped the poorly Roch recover. The dog eventually led its owner, a local count named Gothard, back to Roch’s refuge in the forest, who continued to help Roch make a speedy recovery. 

St. Roch’s later life 

The story turns a bit darker after that, as when Roch returned to his home city he was accused of being a spy and imprisoned by his uncle – who claimed he did not recognise him. Roch did not reveal his identity and in 1327 died; presumably quite happily as he seemed to readily accept his fate.  

Quickly after his death, he was venerated as a holy healer, as when a plague broke out in Constance almost a century after his death it was said that his intervention helped end the pestilence. He was canonised ‘by popular fervour’ in 1590 and became a patron saint to many. 

Not only is he the patron saint of dogs, but also, bachelors, diseased cattle, those who have been falsely accused, invalids, Istanbul, surgeons, tile-makers, gravediggers, pilgrims, apothecaries, and second-hand dealers – all celebrated on his feast day, August 16. 

How to recognise St. Roch 

St. Roch is usually depicted in artworks and statues as a pilgrim with the weeping sores symptomatic of bubonic plague, but with his faithful dog at his side – offering comfort with a nuzzle, a tilt of the head and a gentle lick or two. 

Johnson’s has been around for a hundred years, which is a long time in the world of pet health and welfare, but even we have to acknowledge that St. Roch has been representing dogs and their owners (albeit without most knowing) for longer, having started almost 430 years ago. 

So if you want to recognise the day, just wish your faithful canine companion a happy St. Roch’s day and be sure to share this post with your friends on your social media. From the team at Johnson’s, we wish you a very happy St Roch’s Day! 

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