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The still uncleaned Leopold Corona shrine immediately after its removal from storage (all images courtesy of Domkapitel Aachen)

In Germany’s Aachen Cathedral, the relics of a particularly timely-sounding saint have emerged. The Christian martyr’s name? Remarkably, Saint Corona.

The cathedral had pulled a 216 lb embellished gold, bronze, and ivory shrine holding the relics from storage with the plans of flaunting it this summer, in an exhibition dedicated to gold craftsmanship. While the show’s opening date is now uncertain, a conservator is meticulously cleaning the shrine to ensure it is ready for public eyes once the pandemic is over.

The dome of the shrine was neatly disassembled into its individual parts for cleaning purposes.

“Corona” means “crown” in Latin, and all coronaviruses — not just the novel strain that causes COVID-19 — take their name from the crown-like spikes that surround each particle. It’s not surprising that in recent weeks, Saint Corona has, no pun intended, gone viral. And on social networks and the media alike, she has also been lauded as the patroness of plagues and epidemics, an attribution that is likely untrue.

There is, in fact, a Saint Corona, who may have been killed as a teenager by the Romans in Syria for professing Christianity. But Candida Moss, a professor of theology at the University of Birmingham, told the National Catholic Reporter that she had never before been associated with epidemics. Those praying to Saint Corona should turn to Saint Edmund instead, patron of infectious diseases, Moss tweeted.

Luke Jonathan Koeppe, a student of restoration and conservation science, works on the cleaning and conservation of the shrine.

Still, some argue saints often acquire their patronage by accident or due to public consensus, making Saint Corona’s newly-minted title just as valid as any other. In any case, Aachen Cathedral hopes the shrine and relics will now garner increased attention once they can be exhibited.

“We have brought the shrine out a bit earlier than planned and now we expect more interest due to the virus,” Aachen Cathedral spokeswoman Daniela Loevenich told Reuters.

Dr. Birgitta Falk, head of the cathedral treasury, in front of the grave of Emperor Otto III, who brought the relics of Corona to Aachen in 997.

According to the New York Times, Corona’s relics were brought to Aachen by King Otto III in 997. They were held in a tomb in the Roman Catholic cathedral, built by Emperor Charlemagne in 803 and one of Europe’s oldest, before they were stored in the elaborate shrine in the 20th century.

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Valentina Di Liscia

Valentina Di Liscia is a staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...

2 replies on “The True Significance of St. Corona, the Viral Saint”

  1. Actually, St. Corona has been a patroness of plagues and epidemics for hundred’s of years in Austria and Bavaria. You can see the St. Corona parish website link from Vienna at http://www.saintcoronaprayercards.com/

    The parish website says that St. Corona was patroness of epidemics for the founders of the church. This was written many years ago. The church was first built 500 years ago!

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