Roch vs. Gertrude

"Are you a dog person or a cat person?" Not to get too philosophical on you, but this is one of the fundamental questions of human existence. A question that, had the Supreme Executive Committee in its infinite wisdom chosen the other Saint Gertrude ("of Nivelles" rather than "the Great"), could have perhaps been decided once and for all. You see today Roch, the patron saint of dogs, takes on Gertrude, the patron saint of...not cats but...the West Indies. Alas.

Of course, there are other criteria on which to base your decision as you seek to choose between a 14th century Frenchman and a 13th century German woman. Like whether you prefer cabernet to beer or croissants to pretzels. But enough of these European stereotypes!

Yesterday, in the most lopsided battle of the year, Joseph trounced Christina Rossetti, sending her into her personal "bleak midwinter," 79% to 21%. He'll face Absalom Jones in the Saintly Sixteen.

This is the last battle of the first full week of Lent Madness 2016. Save your voting energy, folks, and we'll see you bright and early on Monday morning as Columba takes on Kateri Tekakwitha.


Roch (Rock in English) is known as the patron saint of dogs, falsely accused people, and plagues. Many legends surround the saint, who was born in 1350 in Montpellier, France, to a rich merchant family. According to one legend, God touched Roch at birth, leaving the mark of a red cross on his breast. Rejecting his father’s directive to become a governor of their town following his father’s death, Roch instead sold his possessions and began a pilgrimage to Italy. During his journey, he passed through a town stricken by the plague. Roch miraculously cured the inhabitants with touch and the sign of the cross. Unfortunately, he was unable to prevent himself from contracting the plague, and stories say he fled to the wilderness to die.

As Roch was lying in pain, a dog appeared to him in a clearing. The dog began licking his sores and nurturing him to health. A water source sprang up beside him. Popular iconography of Roch shows him afflicted with sores and a dog by his side.

When Roch healed, he returned home. Unfortunately, his uncle, the governor, did not recognize him and threw Roch in prison as a spy. For five years, Roch lived in the prison without revealing his identity. It was not until he died that people recognized him by the cross-shaped birthmark on his breast. Following his death, the people of the village wept and gnashed their teeth in loss and regret, and a group of followers of Roch sprang up in Montpellier. Seeing the popularity of Roch, the Roman Church built the Church of San Rocco in Venice and entombed his remains.

Collect for Roch
Merciful Jesus, you know our deepest sorrows and aches and offer us comfort through your love and companionship. Thank you for the ministry and miracles of your loyal servant, Roch, who sought to comfort the sick and infirm for the sake of your love. Create in us hearts full of compassion and love that we would be agents of your healing and love in a broken world. Amen.

— Anna Fitch Courie


Gertrude the Great (sometimes called Saint Gertrude of Helfta) was a late thirteenth-century German Benedictine nun, mystic, theologian, and writer.

Little is known of Gertrude’s early life except that she was born in 1256. She entered school at the monastery of St. Mary at Helfta at the young age of four. While some speculate that her parents offered her to the Church as a child oblate (a person dedicated to a life in God’s service), another theory is that she was an orphan. In the monastery school, Gertrude was under the care of Saint Mechtilde, the younger sister of the monastery’s abbess, Gertrude of Hackeborn.

Gertrude joined the monastic community in 1266. Her later writing shows that she was well educated in rhetoric and Latin. Gertrude began to experience visions at the age of twenty-five. She shifted her study from the secular to focus on scripture and theology and devoted herself to a life of prayer and meditation. Wanting to share her experiences and dedication to God, Gertrude began writing spiritual treatises for her monastic sisters and became a spiritual counselor to whom people flocked for advice.

Gertrude produced numerous writings, although only a few survive today. The longest piece still in existence is The Herald of Divine Love. Partly written by Gertrude and partly written by other nuns, The Herald is composed of five books. Book Two, written by Gertrude, forms the core of the work. It includes vivid descriptions of Gertrude’s visions, including details on the veneration of Christ’s heart.

Gertrude died at Helfta, near Eisleben, Saxony (Germany) around 1302. While Gertrude is now regarded as one of the great mystics of the thirteenth century, she was not broadly remembered after her death until the Latin edition of her work was published in 1536.

Collect for Gertrude
Almighty God, your Holy Spirit gives to one the word of knowledge, and to another the insight of wisdom, and to another the steadfastness of faith. We praise you for the gifts of grace imparted to your servant Gertrude, and we pray that by her teaching we may be led to a fuller knowledge of the truth we have seen in your Son Jesus, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

— Beth Lewis

Roch vs. Gertrude

  • Roch (53%, 3,640 Votes)
  • Gertrude (47%, 3,212 Votes)

Total Voters: 6,852

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Roch: By Francisco Ribalta -, Public Domain, Wiki Commons.
Gertrude: Icon by Theophilia.


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273 comments on “Roch vs. Gertrude”

    1. You are right, Oliver, that shows a lot of dedication to God's service. I voted for Roch though because he healed the sick. .

        1. As a geology major way back when, I couldn't not vote for a saint named Roche/Rock - however my cat may never forgive me.

        2. I don't understand why the DOG isnt a saint! Without the days g Roch would not have been around to do all he did!,, Also, I think we should name this poor dog.....wonder what the most common dog name was at that time?

    2. So many are suffering inside and out. Roch showed great mercy in a time of great fear. I love a good mystic, but I Roch the vote. Sorry, couldn't resist the pun.

    3. Oliver-My students and I love to read your comments each day. We are a 5th grade class in Louisiana.

    4. I also voted for Gertrude. By writing books, she left something for us to use even today! That was very thoughtful of her.

    5. Oliver, I too voted for Gertrude. Although the post doesn't say this, the Benedictine order is one of service and I'm sure she must have also spent time teaching.

    6. I also voted for Gertrude. I was moved by the story of Roch and I am a dog lover, but I spent some retreat time at a Benedictine monastery called St. Gertrude's and the story of Gertrude is so much reflected in the ministry of the nuns at that monastery, that I had to vote for Gertrude.
      The nuns at St. Gertrude's are primarily teachers and nurses, but the ministry of the monastery in spiritual direction and retreat offerings is certainly a reflection of St. Gertrude's ministry.

    7. Once again, I'm right with you, Oliver. And I also voted for Gertrude because one of the women who taught me in high school was named Sister Gertrude and she was super-smart.

      1. Gertrude also was very pretty - in the picture her soul shines through. She focused on the spiritual gifts rather than regretting all she missed while in the community. No Cinderella dreams for her! Come on late owls - vote Gertrude!

  1. Some readers may recognizes St. Roch by the Italian form of his name, Rocco, or Spanish form, Roque.

    1. Thank you so very much for "translating" his name. There is a church in my neighborhood, San Roque, with a statue of a man with a large dog over the entrance. I had no idea who it was. So nice to know now. Thank you!

  2. Dogs, thanks. My daughters are cat people, I am a dog guy.
    Without, at the moment. I enjoy other people's dogs. I also enjoy other people's wisdom
    from their religion's heritage. Be a Christian in a room of Jewish scholars. Fun!

  3. 2 years ago we ambled by St Roch's church in Venice and did not get the plague our entire trip, I mean pilgrimage, to Italy! Glory be and Roch on!

  4. Roch - you had me at patron of dogs AND bad knees ( in addition to plague victims, falsely accused etc).

  5. Solidarity, Oliver! I voted for Gertrude, too. I love my dogs--definitely am a "dog person"--but the dogs licking his sores was just too much for me on an empty stomach. I'm going with bookish Gertrude. What an amazing woman!

    1. I'm with you SusanLee and Oliver. I am moved by the image of a tiny girl being brought up where she had no riches or freedom to travel or make pilgrimages. And yet she must have been surrounded by love, since she grew up to love and serve the Lord and to have a powerful desire to communicate her knowledge and experience of God to others Ina way that might survive her. She was indeed an amazing woman.

  6. Although I'm a cat person, I voted for Roch. I'm always a sucker for saints who give up wealth and status to follow God's call.

  7. You have posted the info on Gertrude of Helfta (aka the Great) NOT Gertrude of Nivelles who was 7th c and Belgian. Very different people from very different times.

      1. It was easy to miss the elegantly fronted "had" in the intro. For a neat secular equivalent, see this quatrain from the Earl of Rochester: "Whene'er those wounding eyes, so full. Of sweetness you did see,. Had you not been profoundly dull,. You had gone mad like me. "

        1. Very true. I had to go back and re-read it twice before the elegance of the prose slapped me upside the head.

        2. Yes, yes! I, too, am a card carrying cat person. My 8 yr. old siamese and I rescued e each other last year.I love dogs, but cats are our purrfect. Gertrude accomplished an extraordinary amount of work through her own education, working with others, and her writings. Amazing for a woman who lived without benefit of word processors , microwaves, and electric lights, and in a time when women just didn't do what she did. Go Gertrude!

        3. I do think, though, that the construction with "had" isn't so archaic that people shouldn't be expected to understand it. It's still heard now and then in contemporary speech.

          (In the interest of full disclosure, there are those who consider me a tiresome pedant.)

          1. Amen to that! Thank the Lord for wit and humor, without which life would
            be much less worth living.

  8. After completing 4 years of EFM I have lots of repeat for mystics and theologians. I voted for Gertrude.

    1. As did I, Anne B. I'm a wandering mystic, myself, and have a spiritual sister/brotherhood with all others who contemplate the glory of God.

    2. ...and it was in an EfM class that I met a wonderful saint of God, also a wise and well-read teacher and beautiful example of lifelong Christian faith, who originally hailed from the West Indies. In memory of saint E.L. of Antigua, and in the hope Gertrude makes it through so Beth can explain the Caribbean connection - voting for Gertrude today!

        1. EfM is Education for Ministry which was devised and is supported by The University of the South. It's distance learning for laity and hard but wonderful way to spend four years with nary a test in sight.

    1. Oh man! Being a tertiary myself, now I feel guilty about not voting for him! But I'm a big fan of the women mystics, and Gertrude is a new one to me, so I voted for her. I'll make it up to Roch on Aug 17th...

  9. Having just gotten through a week of Hand Foot and Mouth with a toddler..I feel called to vote for the patron saint of plagues

    1. You have my deepest sympathy. I remember holding my daughter -- now 17 and completely healthy -- for almost a week as she drooled her way through Hand Foot Mouth. Ugh. Still, I voted for Gertrude. Roch seemed a bit odd, even for a saint.

  10. Card carrying cat person here - proudly owned by two rescue cats. Dogs are great - I enjoy other people's. I voted for Gertrude because she became educated and wrote down her experiences of Christ in a time when women were often illiterate.

  11. Went with San Roque because it was the name of my parish in El Salvador. It was the first I had ever heard of him. St. Gertrude was the name of our rival school in sports so....

  12. My aunt, Gertrude, is gravely ill and will probably return to God by this weekend. When I saw St. Gertrude, I almost wept. Aunt Gert was truly a good and faithful servant. Her daughter, Mary, has been an amazing example of daughterly love. As much as I love dogs, I love my Aunt Gert more. St. Gertrude has my vote!

  13. Another case of using a random number generator to get a decision & Gertrude u are the winner. Both of these saints are winners, it should be a vote to tie. Cheering for both

    1. Have to agree. I was truly torn today. The healer who travelled to Italy for comfort OR the woman mystic and writer. I voted for Roch, but am still second-guessing.

  14. Dog licking sores agree with Susan Lee. Thanks every time I look at a dog now I'll think of Roch. It's Gertrude on that alone. Not crazy about either of them .

  15. Gertrude gets my vote. I love a woman who can't resist giving advice. She was the Dear Abby of her day!

  16. This is a super tough one. I love dogs, and personally I love the image of a dog healing a stranger by licking his wounds. The Saint as Healer, too, is compelling. Yet St. Gertrude was amazingly literate, left writings to inspire us, and shared her meditative regimen with others as a powerful path to God. What to do, what to do...

  17. my first head nurse was a saint; she was named Gertrude, she was from Germany, and was a nurse-midwife. What a role model! She taught me so much, and I am grateful for both her and her teachings. Go Gertrude!

  18. Although I'm a dog person...I'm not a single issue voter. I concur with Jane C - love advice giving Gertrude. She's got my vote today.

  19. Having been falsely accused myself, I voted for Roch. I'm inspired by his ability to remain silent even though placed in such difficult circumstances.

    1. Ann, Roch's being patron saint of the falsely accused was a strong selling point. (I had that same experience myself but, fortunately, the judge recognized that the charge was frivolous. Still waiting for the end of the civil suit.) I hope that the Lord brings/has brought you safely through it.

      Roch's being patron saint of dogs is good, too. I love dogs, although I currently have a cat in residence and am probably more of a cat person. (You can own a dog, but you cannot own a cat; the best you can hope for is what I call "mutual ownage.")

      In the end, I voted for Gertrude. Most of what we know about Roch appears to be based on legend. With Gertrude, we at least have her writings. I respect mystics, although I am not one. Even though I was not familiar with her (or him), the claim that she was one of the greatest mystics of her century helped cinch my decision.