Almost every profession or occupation has a patron saint, a person who is regarded as an advocate for the people in that profession.
There are patron saints for places, hobbies, diseases and even problems like computer bugs (St. Isidore) or real bugs (St. Ambrose).
Although the idea of a patron saint is most closely associated with Roman Catholicism, patron saints are also a common feature within Anglican, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Eastern Orthodox churches. There’s also a similar concept within some branches of Islam.
If you’re having a problem with DIR fees or if physicians aren’t returning your calls, here are the folks you might call on for help. (If asking a saint to intercede for you isn’t your thing, then these folks are interesting historical figures with a connection to pharmacy.)
Bl. Elvira Moragas Cantarero
Elvira Moragas Cantarero is not a saint, or at least not yet. A person with the title “Blessed” is on the road to sainthood, just one step away from being named a saint.
Elvira was a pharmacist’s daughter and one of the first women accepted to the pharmacy school at the University of Madrid, in 1900. She became a licensed pharmacist in 1905. When her father died, she took over his pharmacy business, but then left it to her brother when she felt called to become a Carmelite nun. During the Spanish Civil War, she was captured by a mob in 1936 and interrogated. She refused to answer their questions about the location of the convent’s valuables and was murdered. Elvira was declared a martyr in 1997.
In paintings of her, she is often shown with a mortar and pestle.
St. Giovanni Leonardi
Giovanni (or John) Leonardi was born in Italy in 1541. He studied for 10 years to become a certified pharmacist’s assistant before he studied for the priesthood. After he was ordained, he gathered a group of people to work in hospitals and prisons and also founded a religious order.
Giovanni died when he fell ill in 1609 while nursing members of his order during a flu epidemic.
St. Gemma Galgani
Gemma Galgani was also the daughter of a pharmacist. Although she wanted to become a nun, she was rejected by one religious order because she was in ill health and said she was having mystical visions. Gemma developed spinal meningitis at age 16, but was cured through prayer. She finally became a lay associate of a religious order. Toward the end of her short life-she died at age 25-she developed the wounds of Christ called stigmata.
Gemma died in 1903 and was sainted relatively rapidly, in 1933.
St. James the Greater
James the Greater-also called James, the son of Zebedee-was one of the 12 Apostles of Christ. He is a patron of pharmacists perhaps because of the story that he raised a boy from the dead who had been unjustly executed five weeks earlier.
St. James the Lesser
James the Lesser-or James, the son of Alphaeus-was also one of the Apostles. He is often called “the Lesser” as a way of distinguishing him from the other Apostle James. He got this assignment, at least according to the website Catholic Saints, because he was clubbed to death and pharmacists use a club-like pestle when grinding powders. And perhaps he got the patron of pharmacy position because after two thousand years, he is still confused with St. James the Greater, a patron of pharmacists.
St. Amand of Maastricht
Amand of Maastricht, also called Amandus, was a hermit and monk who preached in France, Belgium, and Germany and founded many monasteries and convents in the early 600s.
His link to pharmacists is a bit tenuous, but he is more widely known as a patron saint for brewers and wine makers, and alcoholic beverages are often used medicinally, especially when drinking to someone’s health.
St. John of Damascus
John of Damascus was a scholar and theologian who lived in Damascus in the 700s. Many of his writings still exist. He is best known as a defender of the use of religious images and music in churches at a time when religious authorities were against using such artwork.
His link to pharmacy may be because he miraculously reattached his own right hand after it was cut off.
Sts. Cosmas and Damian
Cosmas and Damian were identical twins who are closely connected with the healing professions. Pharmacists share these saints with doctors, surgeons, veterinarians, and people with hernias, among other things.
The pair were Arab physicians who lived in Syria and were martyred there around 287 AD. They are credited with first compounding several drugs into sweet paste taken orally to treat various disease and conditions. They were also often called “the silverless” or “the moneyless” because they took no money from patients for their treatments.
The most famous story associated with Cosmas and Damian was their treatment of a white man with an ulcerated leg. They amputated the leg and replaced it with the leg of a black man who had recently died.