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Catholic life

The Fascinating History of St. Lazarus: From Biblical Figure to Patron Saint

by Danijel Dubljevic 19 Apr 2023

Introduction

Welcome to the intriguing world of St. Lazarus! We will embark on a journey that takes us from his origins as a biblical figure to his venerated status as a patron saint. In this article, we'll explore the story of Lazarus, his close relationship with Jesus, the various Christian traditions that have embraced him, and how he became the patron saint of numerous causes and cultures [1].

 

The Biblical Story of Lazarus

 

Lazarus of Bethany

 

Lazarus was a man from the quaint village of Bethany, near Jerusalem, who lived during Jesus' time. He had two sisters, Mary and Martha, who also appeared in the New Testament.

 

The Raising of Lazarus

 

You might be familiar with the incredible story of Lazarus' resurrection by Jesus, as recounted in the Gospel of John (John 11:1-44). When Jesus heard that his dear friend Lazarus was gravely ill, he went to Bethany. Despite knowing that Lazarus had already passed away, Jesus raised him from the dead, astonishing the crowd gathering to mourn.

 

The Connection with Jesus

 

Lazarus' resurrection is significant in the New Testament, showcasing Jesus' divine power and foreshadowing his resurrection. The close bond between Jesus, Lazarus, and his sisters offers insight into Jesus' human relationships and emotional connections.

 

St. Lazarus in the Christian Tradition

 

Eastern Orthodox Tradition

 

The Eastern Orthodox Church commemorates St. Lazarus on Lazarus Saturday, the Saturday before Palm Sunday [2]. This particular day is marked with unique liturgical services. It celebrates the resurrection of Lazarus as a precursor to Jesus' resurrection and the eventual resurrection of all people.

 

Roman Catholic Tradition

 

St. Lazarus is venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church, although his feast day is not universally celebrated [3]. In some places, his memory is honored on December 17, while in others, it is observed on June 21.

 

The Iconography of St. Lazarus

 

Christian art often portrays St. Lazarus as a man clad in rags, with sores on his body, symbolizing his association with illness and healing. He may also be depicted holding a cross, representing his resurrection, or a small box or jar, referencing the ointment his sister Mary used to anoint Jesus' feet.

 

The Patronage of St. Lazarus

 

Patron Saint of the Sick

 

St. Lazarus is invoked as the patron saint of the sick due to his miraculous resurrection and the belief that he devoted the remainder of his life to caring for the ill [4]. His association with healing and compassion has made St. Lazarus a powerful symbol of hope and intercession for those struggling with various health issues.

 

Patron Saint of Lepers

 

St. Lazarus is particularly venerated as the patron saint of lepers. This connection likely originated from the blending of Lazarus of Bethany with another Lazarus mentioned in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 16:19-31), a poor, diseased beggar covered in sores [5]. Over time, these two figures became intertwined in the popular imagination. St. Lazarus became synonymous with leprosy and those who suffered from it.

 

Patron Saint of Hospices and Hospitals

 

As the patron saint of hospices and hospitals, St. Lazarus is believed to have dedicated his life to caring for the sick after his resurrection [6]. Many religious institutions committed to tending to the ill have been founded in his name, further solidifying this association.

 

St. Lazarus Across Cultures

 

The French Influence

 

During the Middle Ages, the veneration of St. Lazarus spread throughout Europe and gained considerable popularity in France. Several churches and monasteries dedicated to St. Lazarus were established, including the notable Abbey of St. Lazarus in Autun, an important center for the care of lepers.

 

The Caribbean Connection

 

Caribbean cultures, particularly in Haiti, have syncretized St. Lazarus with the Vodou spirit Papa Legba, the gatekeeper of the spirit world. This connection likely developed due to the shared associations of both figures with healing, the sick and the marginalized.

 

The Eastern European Legacy

 

In Eastern Europe, St. Lazarus has left a lasting impact, especially in Bulgaria and Romania. The Orthodox tradition of "Lazaruvane" or "Lazăr's Day" is observed on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, celebrating the resurrection of Lazarus [7]. This day is associated with springtime, renewal, and the blessing of young girls who participate in traditional rituals and dances.

 

Conclusion

 

Our journey through the fascinating history of St. Lazarus has revealed a complex and multifaceted figure whose story has evolved and been reinterpreted over the centuries. From his biblical origins to his patron saint and cultural icon role, St. Lazarus continues to inspire and captivate people's imaginations worldwide. May his story of resurrection and healing bring hope and solace to those who seek his intercession.

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FAQs

 

  1. What is the story of St. Lazarus? St. Lazarus was a biblical figure raised from the dead by Jesus. Over time, he became a venerated saint in Christian tradition and is now considered the patron saint of the sick, lepers, and hospices [8].
  2. What is the connection between St. Lazarus and leprosy? St. Lazarus became associated with leprosy due to a conflation of Lazarus of Bethany with a different Lazarus mentioned in the Gospel of Luke, who was a poor, diseased beggar covered in sores [9].
  3. How is St. Lazarus celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox Church? In the Eastern Orthodox Church, St. Lazarus is commemorated on Lazarus Saturday, the Saturday before Palm Sunday, with special liturgical services celebrating his resurrection as a precursor to the resurrection of Jesus and the general resurrection of all people [10].
  4. What is the significance of St. Lazarus in Caribbean cultures? In Caribbean cultures, St. Lazarus is syncretized with the Vodou spirit Papa Legba, the gatekeeper of the spirit world. This connection likely arose due to the shared associations of both figures with healing, the sick and the marginalized.
  5. How is St. Lazarus honored in Eastern European traditions? In Eastern Europe, the Orthodox tradition of "Lazaruvane" or "Lazăr's Day" is observed on the Saturday before Palm Sunday [11]. This day is associated with springtime, renewal, and the blessing of young girls who participate in traditional rituals and dances.
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