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What is a saint? The definition at left is pretty standard, from the viewpoint of contemporary Christian culture. However, quite a few other religions also recognize saints, including Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists. Uniquely American is the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormans). But predating the Mormans by about 200 years were the Pilgrims (religious separatists) who arrived on the Mayflower and referred to themselves as "Saints" - distinguishing them from the other passengers, whom they called "Strangers."
There are also contemporary saints, as recognized by the Unitarian Universalist Church. They are "The Saints of Liberalism" and range from Socrates to Martin Luther King.
Many Christian practices have their roots in older religions. In Judaism, for instance, prophets and holy people are honored with shrines - as are saints. The archangel saints (Michael, Gabriel, Raphael...) are also revered in Jewish and Islamic traditions. Quite a few early Christian saints strongly resemble pagan gods and goddesses (Brigid of Ireland, for example).
Beginning with the early Christian martyrs in the first century, saints were chosen by popular acclaim. Legends of their lives were spread through word-of-mouth. Their stories evolved into some wonderfully fantastic tales, probably arising from our intellectual, moral, and spiritual need for heroes. They fed the hungry, clothed the naked, healed the sick, defended the defenseless - never expecting (and virtually always refusing) payment for their (sometimes miraculous) services. St. Ivo (Ives) the honest lawyer, Cosmas & Damian the "Unmercenary" Doctor & Pharmacist, and the universally beloved Francis of Assisi are just a few examples.
Thousands of Christian saints have come along over the past 2000 years. There probably are at least three saints designated for each day ("feast days"), occurring variously on Roman, Eastern and Celtic Orthodox calendars. There is a patron for virtually every cause, profession, hobby or special interest. Only the Roman Catholic Church has an official process for creating saints. (Formal canonization did not begin until the 15th century and continues today with the beatification of Mother Teresa.)
More information, including Saints' Day Celebrations and informative links
noun 1 a person who is acknowledged as holy or virtuous and regarded in Christian faith as being in heaven after death.
2 a person of exalted virtue who is canonized by the Church after death and who may be the object of veneration and prayers for intercession. 3 (informal) a very virtuous person.
verb 1 formally recognize as a saint; canonize.
2 (sainted) worthy of being a saint; very virtuous.
- DERIVATIVES sainthood noun saintliness noun saintly adjective.
- ORIGIN Old French seint, from Latin sanctus "holy."
-Definition from Oxford English Dictionery