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Fourteen Holy Helpers


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A group of saints who enjoyed a collective cult in the Rhineland from the 14th century. It became popular in response to the Black Death and political and economic crises. From Ratisbon and Bamberg this devotion spread to the rest of Germany, Hungary, and Sweden; but it had little following in France and Italy. Its apogee was reached in the 15th century; in the 16th it was attacked by the reformers and discouraged by the Council of Trent. It enjoyed, nevertheless, a certain revival in the baroque abbeys of Bavaria and Swabia. C.1700 eighty places provide evidence of the cult with abundant and varied iconography.

The names of the fourteen saints concerned varied from place to place, but the principle of their selection was the efficacy of their intercession against various diseases, and especially at the hour of death in view of supposed revelations that their clients would thus obtain salvation. Most, but not quite all, were venerated as martyrs; several are of doubtful historicity. The list generally comprises the following saints: Acacius, Barbara, Blaise, Catherine of Alexandria, Christopher, Cyricus, Denys, Erasmus, Eustace, George, Giles, Margaret of Antioch, Pantaleon, and Vitus. For one or other of these were sometimes substituted Antony, Leonard, Nicholas, Sebastian, or Roch.

There are several notable artistic representations, particularly on retables and predellas of altars. Examples include the work of Grünewald at Lindenhardt (1503) and of Cranach at Hampton Court. Sometimes the saints are grouped round the Virgin or the Child Jesus on the shoulders of St Christopher.

M. Testa, I Quattordici Santi Ausiliatori (Bolzano 1996); Réau, ii. 680–3.

Subjects: Christianity.


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