Soldiers' saints

Christian icons offer solace to those in combat

By J.M. Simpson on July 8, 2011

A person who is the model of perfection - either spiritual or secular - is called a saint. Regardless of an individual's beliefs, saints offer believers a means by which to find a sense of safety.

It is this sense of comfort, a belief that everything is going to work out for the better, that appeals to some soldiers in combat.  It should, therefore, come as no surprise that the Roman Catholic Church has a number of saints who offer protection to soldiers.  Four are of special interest.

Perhaps the most prominent of saints is Saint Michael the Archangel. 

Considered the guardian angel of Israel, Michael was the leader of God's army during Lucifer's uprising.  Devotion to him is common to Muslims, Christians and Jews with writings about him in all three cultures.  The day of the year special to Michael is Sept. 29.

Another saint believed to protect soldiers is Saint George.  He is also sometimes referred to as the "Victory Bringer."  His special day is April 23.

Of the several stories surrounding George, the one that is referred to as the "Golden Legend" is considered the most popular.

In the story, a dragon lived in a lake near Silena, Libya.  Armies that attacked this creature met defeat.  The tale goes on to relate that the dragon ate two sheep daily.  When mutton was scarce, lots were drawn in the neighboring villages and maidens were substituted for the sheep.

Hearing this story on the day that a princess was awaiting sacrifice, George bowed his head in prayer, rode forth to battle the dragon, and killed it with a single blow with his lance.  He then delivered a sermon and converted the people in the area.  Given a large reward by the local king, George distributed the money to the poor and then rode away. 

Perhaps closer to the heart and soul of many infantry soldiers is Saint Maurice, whose special day is Sept. 22.

Maurice was a soldier who served in a legion of Christian soldiers from Upper Egypt during the reign of 3rd century Emperor Maximian Herculius.   He paid the ultimate price for his beliefs.  Other Roman soldiers massacred Maurice and the legion in which he served when they refused to participate in pagan sacrifices.

Besides saints who look over soldiers, there is one who looks over chaplains.

Saint John of Capistrano was a 15th-century lawyer who became a prisoner of war for his efforts to end a war.  After his ordeal as a POW, he became a Franciscan priest, wrote extensively about the heresies confronting the Roman Catholic Church and established Franciscan communities across Europe.

And after the fall of the city of Constantinople in 1453, he lobbied Pope Callistus for permission to lead a crusade against the Seljuk Turks.  At the age of 70, he led an army of 70,000 Christian soldiers and won the Battle of Belgrade in the summer of 1456. His actions saved Europe from further Muslim incursion. 

He is remembered on Oct. 23.