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Region: England, Wales and Northern Ireland

RE:QUEST

A space for resources to help RE teachers and their students explore the Christian faith

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Church: Saints

What makes a person a saint?

 

The Bible uses the word 'saints' to mean all Christians (Romans 1:6-7). From the earliest times, Christians looked at good examples of other Christians, whose lives really showed the love of Christ. The lives of the Apostles were studied because it was believed they showed how a Christian should live. Those who were killed just because they were Christians were called 'martyrs'. The name means 'witnesses', because they showed how important Jesus was to them.

The courage of the early martyrs gave courage to others. The early church grew because of the brave example of these martyrs. One of the early church leaders, Tertullian, said, "The blood of the martyrs is seed" because of this growth.

Many Christians still look at martyrs and other outstanding Christians to help them to know how they should live. From every century there are shining examples of the Christian life, and, unfortunately, of Christians who have been killed simply because they were Christians. More than twice as many people died for the faith in the 20th century as in the previous 19 centuries combined.

Traditionally, different towns have a local martyr or another saint whose special day they celebrated. A 'patron saint' is a saint who is linked to a particular thing or a place or a group of people. England, Scotland, Wales are Ireland all have their own 'Patron Saint'. Some saints have a special day when they are remembered. Saint Valentine is the patron saint of lovers and is remembered on 14th February.

There are more saints than there are days to remember them, so the others are remembered on 1st November: All Saints Day.

Who decides who can be called a saint?

In the past, many people were called saints. Today, the Roman Catholic church has a process called 'canonization'. A person cannot be called a saint until five years after they have died, and then the matter is considered very carefully, and the final decision is made by the Pope. A Catholic may pray 'with a saint', much as someone else might ask a friend to pray for them. Sometimes they may look at a picture or a statue of a saint as a visual aid, to help them when they pray.

In paintings saints are often shown as having halos, these are disks or circles of light. Halos represent the saints holiness and the fact that they are special and important people.