Posted by: Bystander PJ24 SEP 2009
You may remember that a year ago “Prospector” wrote a piece for this page about several patron saints of pharmacists — St John Leonardi, St Gemma Galgani, St Mary Magdalene and the twin saints Cosmas and Damian (PJ, 4 October, 2008, p403).
Now, you may think that five patron saints is more than enough for any profession, but I have learnt recently that the Roman Catholic church has allocated at least another four patrons to pharmacists. I know not what we have done to need such a large team to intercede in heaven on our behalf.
And these four further patron saints are not just minor players, since they include two of the 12 apostles (St James the Greater and St James the Lesser), plus a senior divine messenger (the Archangel Raphael) and St Nicholas of Myra (better known as Santa Claus).
My excuse for writing this piece this week is Raphael, since his feast day falls next Tuesday (29 September 2009). Raphael is mentioned in only one biblical book, the Book of Tobit, which is part of the Catholic and Orthodox canon but regarded as apocryphal by Protestants.
Raphael’s association with pharmacy presumably derives from his recommendation of a topical cure for blindness. According to the scripture, he persuaded the pious Tobit’s son to rub two-week-old fish gall into his blind father’s eyes. (Don’t try this at home!) When the old man’s eyes began to smart, he rubbed them and the whiteness that had clouded his vision fell away.
The name of St James the Lesser is linked to pharmacy in a curious way through the manner of his martyrdom. Because he was beaten to death, a club was adopted as his symbol. “This,” says my source, “led to his patronage of fullers and pharmacists, both of whom use clubs in their professions.” Presumably this is a reference to pestles, once used for grinding both fuller’s earth and pharmacists’ materia medica.
As for St James the Greater and St Nicholas, I have yet to find a clear pharmacy connection for either. I do, however, note with some concern that among the other occupational groups that have attracted St Nick’s patronage are prostitutes, pawnbrokers and thieves. Why are pharmacists included in this congregation? I hope our profession is not seen as having similar status to these other lines of employment.