History of St. Roch’s Day (Patron Saint of Dogs)

Welcome back again to another article with holiday spirit! We have talked about St. Francis’ feast day. Recalling from the previous article, Saint Francis is a patron saint of animals and the environment. The day of his death then commemorates as the feast of St. Francis of Asisi which consist of animal blessing ceremony. Now, how about St. Roch’s Day? Have you ever heard about Saint Roch?

Saint Roch’s Day is popular as an important date in many catholic churches, especially in Bolivia. Every August 16, many people and their four-legged furry friends will gather in the church that holds St. Roch’s Day, the feast of San Roque, or the Fiesta de San Roque. The event is held for eight days straight and during the festival, there will be a big parade where dogs from all kinds will dress up with colorful ribbons and march together. Here’s a glimpse of the historical background of St. Roch’s Day.

History of St. Roch’s Day (Patron Saint of Dogs)

Saint Roch and Hunting Dog

Before talking about the feast day, it is a good idea to know about who Saint Roch is. Saint Roch or Rocco was a catholic saint. Saint Roch was born in Montpellier around the 14th century and the only child of a wealthy nobleman. His life was marked by a series of miracles, and one of them is a red birthmark in a cross-shaped on his chest. Roch renounced his nobility after the death of his parents at the age of 20.

Later, he gave away his possessions to travel to Rome to take care of the poor and heal the plague victims with the sign of the cross. Eventually, Roch got infected with the diseases too. Not wanting to infect the others, he retreated to the woods to die. While he dying from his illness and wounds, a hunting dog found him and licked his wound. Miraculously, the dog healed him. The dog also took care of him by bringing him bread to eat. From this story, a dog with bread in its mouth has become a symbol of Saint Roch and usually portrayed with him.

After Roch made a full recovery, the dog stayed loyal to him even after he returned to France. France was on civil war, and Roch was mistaken as a spy. He and his dog are put into prison for five years. Even during his sentence, he kept caring for other prisoners. Roch then died on August 16 in prison.

During his life, Roch never revealed his nobility so no one knows who he was until people discovered his cross-shaped birthmark on his chest after his death. Roch later officially declared as a saint 100 years after his death. From his life, he is known as the patron saint of the sick and the patron saint of dogs.

The St. Roch’s Day

So how’s the festival? As a day to commemorate the patron saint of dogs, August 16 is dedicated to dogs. In Bolivia, people will groomed and dressed up their dogs in colorful costumes. Sometimes the owners also wear matching costumes with their dogs too!. Then they will march together to the parish of Villa Adela near the capital for as an honor to the patron saint of dogs. The church will hold the feast for Saint Roch, or San Roque and give blessing to the owners and caregivers and all kinds of dogs, from the home-owned dogs to the stray dogs in the street that usually suffer from hunger and cold.

Street dogs or stray dogs issue has become a public health concern over the past decade in Bolivia. The Ministry of Health estimates that there are about a half-million abandoned dogs suffer in streets and the number seems to keep growing. A high number of stray dogs may increase the risk of pathogenic transmission of rabies. World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that any given dog’s population shouldn’t exceed 10 percent of its cohabiting human population and Bolivia is approaching this number.

The government responded to this issue by approving 22 regulations about the sale and treatment of animals and pets in the country, including the regulation about banning the abandonment of pets, the sale of sick pets, the use of mutilated pets for aesthetic value, and the use of abandoned animals in military practice. Pet owners, vets, and pet stores also obligate to register their pets to the government.

Thus, Saint Roch’s day is also becoming a moment to encourage people to take care of animals, especially to the abandoned one. Saint Roch’s day not only brings the festiveness of the event but also brings the value of Saint Roch who had a great love for animals, especially dogs. After all, they are God’s creatures who need to be blessed and loved too.

Talking about blessing, besides Saint Roch, a patron saint of dogs, there is also known Saint Francis, a patron saint of animals and nature. If Saint Roch day occurs on August 16, Sait Francis’ feast day occurs on October 4. During the event, different kinds of animals are blessed by the priest with holy water. Both bring the same value which is to share the love and blessing the animals that have been helpful and loyal to us.

Saint Roch’s day is just one of many festivals that celebrate animals and dogs in the world. In many countries, there is a day dedicated to different animals, from cows, cats, and more. Most of them, just like Saint Roch’s day, are based on religious beliefs. For example, cows and dogs are celebrated in Hindu tradition because they are worshipped animals. Despite the belief, the festivals are open for everyone and still can be a good option for your holiday destination. Since the festivals are dedicated to animals, surely the event will be pet-friendly. So don’t forget to bring your little furry friend with you too!