Saint’s Day 16 August
St Rock was born in Montpelier circa 1295 where his father was governor. He was said to be born with a red cross on his breast. In his twenties, following the loss of his parents, he distributed his fortune to the poor, and the governorship of Montpelier to his uncle. Arriving in Italy, he visited Aquapendente, stricken by the plague, where he devoted himself to curing its victims by making the sign of the Cross. Wherever he went, the plague was no match for his miraculous power. In Rome, Cardinal Anglic, the pope’s brother was one of those he healed. At Piacenza he succumbed to the plague himself.
He walked into the forest to die but was befriended by a dog who fed him with food stolen from his master’s table. On his recovery, and on returning to Montpelier, he was arrested as a spy and imprisoned (on the orders of his uncle, it is said) when he refused to reveal his noble identity. Cared for by an angel, he died there five years later in 1327. Only then did the red cross on his breast and a document found in his possession serve to identify him.
He is generally depicted as a pilgrim with a staff, and a dog, either displaying a leg with a plague spot or with the dog licking the spot. Patron saint of dogs, pestilence and, rather oddly, tile makers.
It was once the belief that on 16th August St Rock’s dog would rid the town of rabid animals. The townsfolk left bread in the streets for the dog. Indeed it is said that there were people who left it offerings and presents, venerating the dog more than the saint himself! It was also the only day when dogs were allowed in the church, as there was a belief that the devil was partial to taking shape on earth as a dog and they were barred the rest of the year.