Pagan Saints

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This is a growing list of Christian saints and which Pagan Gods and Goddesses they are based on. The material is organized by the language group of the original Pagan Gods. Often, information about Christianity is a major source of information about Pagan religions, and an understanding of the Pagan religions is quite revealing about the later monotheistic religions, too.

Festival, abbreviated f. refers to a festival for a Pagan God. These have often been “set to” an annual date, that is, treated as if they fell on a fixed day on the annual calendar, even though this was not the case in classical Greek, for example, which still ran on a lunar/solar calendar (where each month actually began on the first new moon as it was sighted). This method of organizing the information allows for an easy comparison between languages and religions. Of course, many original festivals fell according to nature. For example, the wheat was harvested whenever the wheat was ripe, which might depend on the weather, and then the people celebrated the wheat harvest at the next full moon, more or less. For the purpose of comparing calendars, full moons are treated as if they always fell on the 15th of the month, new moons as if they always fell on the first of the month.

Feast Day, abbreviated fd. stands for the feast day for saints (with various differences between orthodox and catholic annual calendars, Julian and Gregorian calendars, implementation by various countries, etc.). Feast days are essential for identifying the Christian saints because there are so many of them and they are often so undifferentiated, that this serves as a convenient method of keeping them straight. Dates are given in the American way, month/day (sorry! rest of the world).

Greek Goddesses who became Christian saints:
Many Greek Goddesses became Christian saints but if they were powerful in Greek Pagan religion they were either reduced to rape victims or repentant prostitutes or they had to change gender and become male warrior saints.

Demeter is a Goddess of many festivals but most important, the Thesmophoria, which fell in late October. She became St. Demetrios, a masculine warrior saint, whose fd. is 10/26.

Aphrodite became St. Aphrodite, of which there are several, all with saints’ tales that tell how she became a “repentant whore.”

Saint Nicks for sale The Greek Goddess Nike was picked up as Saint Nicholas, who was extremely popular wherever shipping was important. He is the patron saint of Russia, Holland and Germany, all on the Baltic or northen Sea coasts.

Roman Gods who became Catholic saints
Many Catholic Saints are “votive saints”, that is, their names were copied off votive offerings for Pagan Gods, especially altars and statues which were still standing in Rome in the fourth century CE.

The Roman God Mars was originally a God who guarded wheat fields. He became St. Martin (esp. St. Martin-in-the-fields). Although March is the month associated with Mars (it was the beginning of the military campaigning season in Roman times), the major festival for him in Christian times now usually falls in February, called Mardi Gras “Great Mars.”

The Roman God Quirinus became St. Cyrinus, of which there are various “equestrian warrior saints” such as St. Cyr in France, and St. Quirina, mother of St. Lawrence. The element quir- means (or was understood to mean) ‘horse.’ These saints were very popular and widely worshiped in the Middle-Ages, in France, Holland and also eastern Christian countries.

The Roman gods known as the Lares became St. Lawrence, esp. St. Lawrence beyond-the-wall. The Lares were field Gods who protected the grain growing in the fields. In Italian, he became St. Lorenzo beyond the Walls, meaning outside of the walls of the city, for which there is still a church in Rome, with many “daughter” churches which developed from it.

The Roman Goddess Venus became St. Venera (with a feminized ending to her name since -us looks like a masculine ending in Latin). She had a major church in Rome in early Christian times, but that didn’t last long.

The Roman Gods known as the Gemini, who were protectors of sailors in Roman Pagan times, became the Sanctos Geminos, with a number of forms in the various Christian religions. Santiago de Compostela, (St. James in English) became the protector of pilgrims during the Middle Ages. Forms of St. James all seem to be christianized from various forms of the Proto-Indo-European God *Yama. This God was repeatedly christianized in most of the Indo-European language groups.

Not all Christian saints came from Roman and Greek Pagan deities. Ahura Mazda, a major God in Zoroastrian religion became Ador Ormazd (Saint Ahura Mazda) in the early Syriac Christian church.

Not all Pagan saints are even based on Pagan Gods. Some are based on Pagan holidays. For example the Roman festival of Caro Patri (“Dear Parents” a festival to remember one’s ancestors) in the Roman Pagan calendar of Philocalus became the festival of St. Peter’s Chair in the Roman Catholic Martyrology or saints’ calendar. This was one of the sources that contributed to the character of Saint Peter, who became one of the most important saints in the Roman Catholic Church, since he is the source of their theological claim for apostolic succession.

Some saints are “archaelogical” saints, that is, they are based on archaelogical monuments or finds. St. George is of this type; the image of him killing a dragon is based on sculptures put up by the Romans to threaten barbarians in eastern Europe. The iconography then spawned stories of him killing a dragon.

References
The most widely used book of saints in the west is the Golden Legend, but I could not find any convenient place where there was a list of which Pagan Gods became saints, so I will just be adding them in here.

This page used to be at pierce.yolasite.com/pagansaints but Yola went out of business. The page has now been moved here and it has been updated to remove defective code that was added by the administrators at Yola who hoped to prevent you from seeing the link to the Santiago de Compostela page.

© 2007, last updated 2/9/2012, piereligion.org/pagansaints.html