Letter of Confraternity for the Hospital of
St. Roch, Exeter
London: R. Faques, ca. 1510
Folger Shelf Mark: STC 10617.5
Pictured here is the only known surviving copy of a letter of confraternity (a kind of indulgence) for the Hospital of St. Roch in Exeter. It measures 12 ½ x 7 ½ centimeters and was printed in black letter type in 1510. The small dimensions may account for the loss of all but one of these letters. Creases in the paper indicate it was folded several times and perhaps carried in a pocket by its possessor. This letter confers safety from the plague upon the "bretherne & systers benefactours and good doers vnto the hospytall.ye daye that they do say a pater noster an Aue/& a Crede."
St. Roch (ca. 1350-ca. 1379) was born with a red cross as a birthmark on his chest, and was known as a miracle worker. In towns he visited on his pilgrimage to Rome around 1368, plague victims were spared because St. Roch made the sign of the cross over them. He was himself eventually stricken while returning to his home in Montpellier. The rudimentary woodcut illustrates the popular story of how St. Roch was healed. Once infected, he retreated to a wood outside of Piacenza, where he was cured by a balm from the angel Raphael. His recovery was aided by a dog, pictured between the angel and St. Roch, who brought bread to him daily. The dog's strange behavior made his master, Gothard, curious to follow the dog, whereupon he discovered St. Roch. Gothard was moved to forsake his wealth and follow the saint as a pilgrim. St. Roch was later charged as a spy, and he died in prison in Angera, his identity revealed only when his birthmark was noticed after his death. St. Roch's reputation was further enhanced when the plague abated in Constance in 1414, after the Church Fathers at the Council of Constance ordered that public prayers be offered for his intercession.
For further information, see Nati H. Krivatsy, "Saint Roch and Exeter:
A Note on a Unique STC at the Folger," Explorations in Renaissance Culture,
XV (1989): 136-44.