A patron saint, patroness saint, patron hallow or heavenly protector is a saint who in Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, or particular branches of Islam, is regarded as the heavenly advocate of a nation, place, craft, activity, class, clan, family or person. Catholics believe that patron saints, having already transcended to the metaphysical, are able to intercede effectively for the needs of their special charges.
Historically, a similar practice has also occurred in many Islamic lands. Although Islam has no codified doctrine of patronage on the part of saints, it has nevertheless been an important part of both Sunni and Shia Islamic tradition that particularly important classical saints have served as the heavenly advocates for specific Muslim empires, nations, cities, towns, and villages. With regard to the sheer omnipresence of this belief, the late Martin Lings wrote: "There is scarcely a region in the empire of Islam which has not a Sufi for its Patron Saint." As the veneration accorded saints often develops purely organically in Islamic climates, in a manner different to Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christianity, "patron saints" are often recognized through popular acclaim rather than through official declaration. Traditionally, it has been understood that the patron saint of a particular place prays for that place's wellbeing and for the health and happiness of all who live therein. The veneration of patron saints has lessened since the eighteenth-century in certain parts of the Islamic world, due to the growing influence in those of areas of latter-day "reformation" movements like Salafism and Wahhabism, which shun the veneration of saints in general.
Saints often become the patrons of places where they were born or had been active. However, there were cases in Medieval Europe where a city which grew to prominence and obtained for its cathedral the remains or some relics of a famous saint who had lived and was buried elsewhere, thus making him or her the city's patron saint – such a practice conferred considerable prestige on the city concerned. In Latin America and the Philippines, Spanish and Portuguese explorers often named a location for the saint on whose feast or commemoration they first visited the place, with that saint naturally becoming the area's patron.
Professions sometimes have a patron saint owing to that individual being involved somewhat with it, although some of the connections were tenuous. Lacking such a saint, an occupation would have a patron whose acts or miracles in some way recall the profession. For example, when the previously unknown profession of photography appeared in the 19th century, Saint Veronica was made its patron, owing to how her veil miraculously received the imprint of Christ's face after she wiped the blood and sweat off.
The veneration or "commemoration" and recognition of patron saints or saints in general is found in Roman Catholicism, Eastern Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, Lutheranism and Anglicanism.
It is, however, generally discouraged in some Protestant branches such as Calvinism, where the practice is considered a form of idolatry.
In Islam, the veneration or "commemoration" and recognition of patron saints is found in many branches of traditional Sunnism and in the vast majority of Shia Islam. The idea of "patron saints" is, however, strictly condemned by the latter-day movements of Salafism and Wahhabism, which believe that this notion and the veneration of saints in general constitute a form of idolatry.