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St. Roch, also known as Roche and Rocco, was born in Montpellier, France, about 1295. His father was governor of that city.
At his birth St. Roch is said to have had on his breast a birthmark in the shape of a red cross. His parents died when he was about 20 and he distributed his fortune among the poor. Roch’s uncle assumed the power of the government of Montpellier.
Dressed as a mendicant pilgrim, Roch set out for Italy, but stopped at Aquapendente, which was stricken by the plague. He devoted himself to the plague-stricken, curing them with the sign of the cross.
He next visited Cesena and other neighboring cities and then, finally Rome. It is said that the terrible scourge disappeared before his miraculous power. He visited Mantua, Modena, Parma and other cities with the same results.
At Piacenza, he was stricken with the plague. He withdrew to a hut in the nearby forest, where his wants were supplied by a man named Gothard, who by a miracle learned the place of his retreat. Popular legends say that during his illness, though cut off from all human kind, he was miraculously fed every day by a dog bringing him a loaf of bread and licked his wounds.
After his recovery, Roch returned to France. Arriving back at Montpellier and refusing to disclose his identity, he was taken for a spy in the disguise of a pilgrim, and cast into prison by order of the governor (his own uncle, some writers say) where five years later he died. The miraculous cross on his breast as well as a document found in his possession now served for his identification. He was accordingly given a public funeral, and numerous miracles attested his sanctity.
In 1414, during the Council of Constance, the plague broke out in that city. The Fathers of the Council ordered public prayers and processions in honor of St. Roch, and immediately the plague ceased. His relics made their way to Venice in 1485, where they still are venerated.
Urban VIII approved the ecclesiastical office to be recited on his feast (Aug. 16). Paul III instituted a confraternity, under the invocation of the saint, to have charge of the church and hospital erected during the pontificate of Alexander VI. The confraternity increased so rapidly that Paul IV raised it to an archconfraternity, with powers to establish similar confraternities of St. Roch. It was given a cardinal-protector, and a prelate of high rank was to be its immediate superior. It still flourishes.
St. Roch is patron of those suffering from plague and pestilence as well as patron of dogs.