Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

Exactly how many saints are there?

There are over 10,000 named saints and beati from history, the Roman Martyology and Orthodox sources, but no definitive "head count".

How does the Church choose saints?

Canonization, the process the Church uses to name a saint, has only been used since the tenth century. For hundreds of years, starting with the first martyrs of the early Church, saints were chosen by public acclaim. Though this was a more democratic way to recognize saints, some saints' stories were distorted by legend and some never existed. Gradually, the bishops and finally the Vatican took over authority for approving saints.

In 1983, Pope John Paul II made sweeping changes in the canonization procedure. The process begins after the death of a Catholic whom people regard as holy. Often, the process starts many years after death in order give perspective on the candidate. The local bishop investigates the candidate's life and writings for heroic virtue (or martyrdom) and orthodoxy of doctrine. Then a panel of theologians at the Vatican evaluates the candidate. After approval by the panel and cardinals of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the pope proclaims the candidate "venerable."

The next step, beatification, requires evidence of one miracle (except in the case of martyrs). Since miracles are considered proof that the person is in heaven and can intercede for us, the miracle must take place after the candidate's death and as a result of a specific petition to the candidate. When the pope proclaims the candidate beatified or "blessed," the person can be venerated by a particular region or group of people with whom the person holds special importance.

Only after one more miracle will the pope canonize the saint (this includes martyrs as well). The title of saint tells us that the person lived a holy life, is in heaven, and is to be honored by the universal Church. Canonization does not "make" a person a saint; it recognizes what God has already done.

Though canonization is infallible and irrevocable, it takes a long time and a lot of effort. So while every person who is canonized is a saint, not every holy person has been canonized. You have probably known many "saints" in your life, and you are called by God to be one yourself.

When did the Church start honoring saints?

By the year 100 A.D., Christians were honoring other Christians who had died, and asking for their intercession. Many people think that honoring saints was something the Church set up later, but it was part of Christianity from the very beginning. As a matter of fact, this practice came from a long-standing tradition in the Jewish faith of honoring prophets and holy people with shrines. The first saints were martyrs, people who had given up their lives for the Faith in the persecution of Christians.

Is keeping statues or pictures of saints idolatry?

Look at the pictures of your loved ones in your wallet or around your home or office. Why do you keep these particular pictures? You might answer that you carry those pictures to remind you of people you love, to help you feel that they're close to you when you're not together, or to share with people you meet. But you probably didn't say you worshipped them. Those are some of the same reasons we have statues and pictures of saints. Seeing a statue of Saint Therese of Lisieux who lost her mother when she was a child might make us feel less alone when we are grieving. A picture of Saint Francis of Assisi might remind us of how much he loved God's creation and make us more aware of our environment.

Do Catholics pray to saints?

We pray with saints, not to them. Have you ever asked anyone to pray for you when you were having a hard time? Why did you choose to ask that person?

You may have chosen someone you could trust, or someone who understood your problem, or someone who was close to God. Those are all reasons we ask saints to pray for us in times of trouble.

Since saints led holy lives and are close to God in heaven, we feel that their prayers are particularly effective. Often we ask particular saints to pray for us if we feel they have a particular interest in our problem. For example, many people ask Saint Monica to pray for them if they have trouble with unanswered prayers, because Monica prayed for twenty years for her son to be converted. Finally her prayers were answered in a way she never dreamed of -- her son, Augustine, became a canonized saint and a Doctor of the Church.

What is a patron saint?

Patron saints are chosen as special protectors or guardians over areas of life. These areas can include occupations, illnesses, churches, countries, causes -- anything that is important to us. The earliest records show that people and churches were named after apostles and martyrs as early as the fourth century. Recently, the popes have named patron saints but patrons can be chosen by other individuals or groups as well. Patron saints are often chosen today because an interest, talent, or event in their lives overlaps with the special area. For example, Francis of Assisi loved nature and so he is patron of ecologists. Francis de Sales was a writer and so he is patron of journalists and writers. Clare of Assisi was named patron of television because one Christmas when she was too ill to leave her bed she saw and heard Christmas Mass -- even though it was taking place miles away. Angels can also be named as patron saints.A patron saint can help us when we follow the example of that saint's life and when we ask for that saint's intercessory prayers to God.

Is there a Feast day for every day of the year?

Well, yes and no. The official Roman calendar of feast days for celebration by the Universal Church (in other words, all over the world) does not have a saint's feast day every day. The Church chooses saints to be celebrated worldwide very carefully -- they must have a strong message for the Church as a whole. That doesn't mean that other saints are somehow less holy -- although some of the saints that have been dropped were legendary and there is little evidence they existed.

Religious orders, countries, localities, and individuals are free to celebrate the feast days of saints not listed on the universal calendar but which have some importance to them. And there are indeed feast days for saints every day of the year. As a matter of fact there are at least three saints for almost every day.

Butler's Lives of the Saints has the most complete listing of saints' feast days I have found, though I advise care in choosing the edition. Recent changes have been made to the calendar that would affect feast days.

Whatever happened to St. Christopher? Is he still a saint?"

Before the 1969 reform of the Roman calendar, Christopher was listed as a martyr who died under Decius. Nothing else is known about him. There are several legends about him including the one in which he was crossing a river when a child asked to be carried across. When Christopher put the child on his shoulders he found the child was unbelievably heavy. The child, according to the legend, was Christ carrying the weight of the whole world. This was what made Christopher patron saint of travelers. His former feast day is July 25.

Before the formal canonization process began in the fifteenth century, many saints were proclaimed by popular approval. This was a much faster process but unfortunately many of the saints so named were based on legends, pagan mythology, or even other religions -- for example, the story of the Buddha traveled west to Europe and he was "converted" into a Catholic saint! In 1969, the Church took a long look at all the saints on its calendar to see if there was historical evidence that that saint existed and lived a life of holiness. In taking that long look, the Church discovered that there was little proof that many "saints", including some very popular ones, ever lived. Christopher was one of the names that was determined to have a basis mostly in legend. Therefore Christopher (and others) were dropped from the universal calendar.

Some saints were considered so legendary that their cult was completely repressed (including St. Ursula). Christopher's cult was not suppressed but it is confined to local calendars (those for a diocese, country, or so forth).



More Saints





Browse Saints by Category


Popular Saints

Rank

Saint

44.

Image of St. Martin de Porres

St. Martin de Porres

St. Martin de Porres was born at Lima, Peru, in 1579. His father was a Spanish gentleman and his mother a coloured freed-woman from Panama. At fifteen, he became a lay brother at the ... continue reading | shop

45.

Image of St. Dymphna

St. Dymphna

Dymphna was fourteen when her mother died. Damon is said to have been afflicted with a mental illness, brought on by his grief. He sent messengers throughout his town and other lands to ... continue reading

46.

Image of St. James the Greater

St. James the Greater

For James there was no indication that this was the day that his life would change. The dawn for him was not the bright beginning of a new day, but the end of long fruitless night of ... continue reading | shop

All Popular Saints

Saint of the Day

Image of St. Angela Merici

St. Angela Merici

When she was 56, Angela Merici said "No" to the Pope. She was aware that Clement VII was offering her a great honor and a great opportunity to serve when he asked her to take charge of a religious ... continue reading

More Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day by E-Mail

Saint of the Day newsletter icon

Learn about the lives of the saints and other saint resources, including a calendar, over 5,000 saint biographies, our most popular saints, and a list of patron saints. 7 days / week. See Sample


Required


Female Saints

Image of St. Angela Merici

St. Angela Merici

When she was 56, Angela Merici said "No" to the Pope. She was aware that Clement VII was offering her a great honor and a great opportunity to serve when he asked her to take charge of a religious order of nursing sisters. But Angela knew that nursing was not what God ... continue reading

More Female Saints



Saint Calendar
Saint Feast Days
Saint Fun Facts

Angels

Image of St. Michael the Archangel

St. Michael the Archangel

St. Michael the Archangel - Feast day - September 29th The name Michael signifies "Who is like to God?" and was the warcry of the good angels in the battle fought in heaven against satan and his followers. Holy Scripture describes St. Michael as "one of the chief ... continue reading


Image of St. Gabriel, the Archangel

St. Gabriel, the Archangel

The name Gabriel means "man of God," or "God has shown himself mighty." It appears first in the prophesies of Daniel in the Old Testament. The angel announced to Daniel the prophecy of the seventy weeks. His name also occurs in the apocryphal book of Henoch. He was the ... continue reading



Saints Fun Facts

Saints Fun Facts for St. Thomas Aquinas

St. Thomas Aquinas

St. Thomas Aquinas, priest and doctor of the Church, patron of all universities and of students. His feast day is January 28th. He was born toward the end of the year 1226. He was the son of ... continue reading

Saints Fun Facts for St. Anthony the Abbot

St. Anthony the Abbot

Two Greek philosophers ventured out into the Egyptian desert to the mountain where Anthony lived. When they got there, Anthony asked them why they had come to talk to such a foolish man? He had ... continue reading



Christian Saints & Heroes

Image of Irenaeus of Lyon wrote these words - The glory of God gives life; those who see God receive life. For this reason, God-who cannot be grasped, comprehended, or seen-allows Himself to be seen, comprehended, and grasped by men, that He may give life to those who see and receive Him. It is impossible to live without life, and the actualization of life comes from participation in God, while participation in God is to see God and enjoy His goodness.

Learning from St Irenaeus How to Know God

By Deacon Keith Fournier

This great defender of the faith insisted on the central claim of Christianity: God can be known and loved-indeed, that is why He came into our midst in the person of His Son; so that through a  relationship with Jesus Christ, man could participate in the ... continue reading

More Christian Saints & Heroes


Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Hebrews 10:1-10
1 So, since the Law contains no more than a ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 40:2, 4, 7-8, 10, 11
2 He pulled me up from the seething chasm, from the ... Read More

Gospel, Mark 3:31-35
31 Now his mother and his brothers arrived and, ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for January 27th, 2015 Image

St. Angela Merici
January 27: When she was 56, Angela Merici said "No" to the Pope. She was ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter