Saint Camillus de Lellis

San Camilo de Lelis

Feast day: July 18

Patron of hospitals, nurses, and the sick. Popularly, he is the patron saint of gamblers and is also invoked for a happy death.

Essay by Yael Cano

Camillus de Lellis was born in 1550 near present day Naples, Italy. With his mother having died early in his childhood, and his father neglecting him most of his life, Camillus joined the army of Venice and Naples and served until 1574. When he was 17-years old, he developed a gambling problem, and developed a wound on his leg that wouldn’t heal. Because of this wound, he went to San Giacomo Hospital where he stayed there both as a patient and a helper. He was asked to leave the hospital due to anger issues and returned to war. He returned from the war in 1574 and gambled everything he owned away, except for the clothes he was wearing. He was forced to work in a construction of the by Franciscans and decided to join the Capuchin. Camillus joined the order twice but was dismissed both times because of the wound on his leg. He returned to San Giacomo and became the superintendent at the Hospital when he realized that he wanted to devote his life to caring for the sick. With this realization and with support from his friend Saint Philip Neri, Camillus studied for priesthood and got ordained in 1584. Camillus left soon after and began his own lay brotherhood called the Ministers of the Sick (The Camillians), where he recruited priests and layman to take care of the sick, especially those who were dying in the street, prisoners, or sick from the plague. Members from his group also helped wounded soldiers in war, becoming the first medical field unit ever recorded. The Camillians distinguished themselves by wearing red crosses on their black habit. He founded more than thirty hospitals and had organizations spread throughout Italy by the time of his death in 1614. Camillus de Lellis became canonized in 1746 by Pope Benedict XIV.

Saint Camillus de Lellis is depicted as a tall man wearing a black habit with a red cross on the front of it, representing his congregation. He is often depicted holding a sick person (fig. 1) or standing or kneeling before a crucifix with sick people in the background as representations of his life’s mission (figs. 2, 3). Small demons and imps (figs. 1, 2) may also be depicted surrounding Saint Camillus de Lellis and the sick individual he is trying to help. These demons or imps are often depicted saying unkind remarks, as they are resentful towards Saint Camillus for saving the individual’s soul from their clutches and the clutches of hell.

Figure 1. Saint Camillus of Lellis / San Camilo de Lelis

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.

Oil on tin. 14 x 9¾”. NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1963.3.4

Donor: Dr. Reginald Fisher.

Figure 2. Saint Camillus of Lellis / San Camilo de Lelis

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.

Oil on tin. NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1966.6.12.

Figure 3. Saint Camillus of Lellis / San Camilo de Lelis

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.

Oil on tin. NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1965.4.1.


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