So, what are patron saints? Well, first of all, what are saints?
According to the dictionary, a saint is someone, man or woman, of special, exceptional moral qualities, considered to have a relation with the supernatural, the divinity, and who dedicated his life, and often sacrificed it, to the religion, by preaching, creating religious communities.
Many people could have special qualities, but to be considered saint one has to have performed deeds, miracles, through the special powers received from God. The power of saints is believed to continue after their death.
Having special relationship with the divinity, saints are seen as intercessors between humans and God, as protectors for the living.
The concept of saint as people of perfect qualities is in most religions in the world, but in the Christian religion the initial recognition by people of special qualities in holy men and women has been officially acknowledged.
That of patron saints in particular, is a tradition typical of the catholic church. Now, I won't go into theological discussions on whether we should have saints or not, it's not the purpose of this website. This is all about the existing tradition of celebrating patron saints.
People have being choosing a particular saint as a patron for all sort of things and situations, for reasons linked to the saint's life. For example, Saint Monica (my saint, by the way) was the mother of Saint Augustine, who gave her hard times when he was young. She was very religious and did all her best to bring up her son as a Christian. Eventually Augustine converted, she became his spiritual counsellor and it is thanks to Monica if Augustine became such an important saint and was declared doctor of the church.
That's why she has been chosen as the patron saint of mothers.
So, also countries and towns have their own patron saint, Italy has two of them: Saint Francis of Assisi, celebrated on 4th October, e Saint Catherine from Siena, celebrated on 30th April.
How did they choose their patron saint?
In most of cases, the saint chosen has a relation to the place, for example he or she was born or died there, or lived and preached in that place, or the saint's relics have been brought there, or the saint did some miracles there.
As an example, Saint Andrew's relics were brought to Amalfi and those of Saint Mark to Venice, Saint Anthony lived for long time and died in Padova, Saint Ambrosius was bishop of Milan, Saint Valentine lived in Terni and was its first bishop, Saint Gennaro was born in Naples, Saint Ephisius was beheaded near Cagliari, and therefore they are those cities' patrons.
The traditions of patron saints' celebrations are very varied in all cities and towns of Italy, reflecting the local history and characters of their inhabitants. They are a very good way to get to know the country.