The Patron Saint of Horses

Fresco of Saint Eligius, Santa Caterina, Treviso
Given the pounding the city of Treviso took during the second world war (on Good Friday, 1944, around half of its buildings were destroyed in a single bombing raid), it is surprising just how many old buildings still survive. One of the casualties was the medieval convent of the Servite Order and its church of Santa Caterina. However, the damage inflicted to the church had a silver lining in that it led to the discovery of numerous frescoes which had remained hidden for centuries. 

Santa Caterina is now part of the Musei Civici, which, with an entrance fee of only €3, are ridiculously good value for money. 

The frescoes, which survive in greater or lesser fragments, range from the fifteenth to the sixteenth century. One of my favourite paintings illustrates a tale from the life of Saint Eligius (c. 588-660). 

In addition to being the patron saint of goldsmiths, Eligius is also the patron saint of horses and the people who work with them. The fresco illustrates Eligius' solution when faced with the problem of a horse reluctant to have one of its hooves re-shod. Thinking that the horse was possessed by demons, Eligius simply cut off its foreleg and, while the horse stood on its remaining three legs and watched, the saint re-shod the hoof on the amputated leg and miraculously reattached it. The devil appears in the guise of a beautiful woman, but his tail gives the game away by protruding from her dress (see above). 
Fresco of the Virgin and Child, Santa Caterina, Treviso
Fresco of Saint Catherine, Santa Caterina, Treviso


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