Updated: Apr 27, 2020
One of Europe’s oldest cathedrals purportedly houses the relics of St. Corona, the patron saint of protection against epidemics and plagues. But is her story real or imaginary?
In 2019, when Aachen Cathedral in Western Germany decided to hold an exhibit on the art of goldsmithing, they started researching and cleaning one of the relics warehoused in a back room for the last 25 years: an elaborate gold, bronze, and ivory shrine that purportedly housed the relics of a lesser-known saint named Corona.
Although it’s uncertain whether she was real or fictional, legend has it that she lived during the second century in Syria, where it was a crime to be a Christian. When a Roman soldier named Victor was accused of practicing Christianity and placed on trial, in an act of solidarity, 16-year-old Corona publicly admitted her faith. The Roman judge hearing the case ultimately executed both Victor and Corona for their Christian beliefs, by tying them between two bent palm trees and then releasing the trunks.
Although the monks at the Basilica Sanctuary of St. Victor and Corona in northern Italy say that her remains lie within their church, it’s believed that her remains were actually divided between the Basilica and Aachen in 997 AD by the Holy Roman Emperor Otto III.
There is also disagreement as to her powers as a saint. As Corona was executed by being tied between two trees, in Austria she has been deemed to be the protector of lumberjacks. But in Italy, she is invoked for help in gambling or treasure hunting. And in Germany, followers invoke St. Corona for protection against storms, crop failures, and epidemics.
Whether she was initially asked to help protect believers from plagues, she most likely will be from this point on, says Candida Moss, a theologian at the University of Birmingham, England. “Saintly traditions have always grown and developed over time as people call upon local saints for assistance in situations of crisis.”
Ironically, if the Coronavirus does not abate by the summer in Germany, Corona's relics may not be placed on display after all in Aachen Cathedral, at a time when she may be needed the most.
For more info on Aachen Cathedral and the exhibit, click here.