Thursday, February 24, 2011

A modern history of St. Expedite - New Orleans

In 1781, the remains of martyrs were exhumed from the catacombs at Place d’Enfer ("The Plaza of Hell") within the municipal boundaries of Paris.  The boxes were shipped to a convent nearby.  When the nuns received a box marked with no other identifying information other than the word “Expedite” they assumed they had accepted possession of this famous saint’s relics.  They celebrated a mass of thanksgiving and interred the saint’s bodily remains in a place of honor.  Since then, they have succeeded in propagating the Gospel and provided comfort to the poor within their jurisdiction ever since.  

A similar occurrence happened in New Orleans in 1826 when Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel on North Rampart Street was built.  This burial church was originally erected for yellow fever victims and it needed statues for veneration within the sanctuary.  A shipment arrived from France and one of the cartons was unmarked save for the word “Expedite.”  The nuns who were doing the unpacking heralded the saint’s statue within as Saint Expedite and it has resided in the chapel ever since.  To this day, it is the only statue of Saint Expedite installed in a North American church.
Due to modern postal protocols of highlighting certain parcels for rush delivery, Saint Expedite has performed the same repeated miracle in city after city over the years.  Before skeptics dismiss this as a bit of impossible folklore, it should be noted that the cartons labeled only for expeditious handling and no other identifying information always contain a statue of the saint as he is traditionally depicted: a centurion who is stepping on a crow while holding a cross inscribed with the word “Hodie.”
The image of the saint in New Orleans is regularly visited by those who desire prompt relief for their problems.  Besides the Catholic faithful who regularly visit the chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe, practitioners of voodoo have adopted the saint as one of their own.  He is associated with Baron Samedi, the spirit who deals with affairs of the dead.  Baron Samedi is also associated curing diseases for those he feels are not ready to die.    It may be because of this latter attribute that Saint Expedite became tied to the Baron in voodoo belief. 
Visitors to the grave of voodoo queen Marie Leveau in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, which is next to the chapel, often implore the queen for intervention on their behalf.  After leaving tokens at the grave site, they enter the chapel and repeat their request to Saint Expedite.
As a professional soldier in life, it is said that Saint Expedite expects payment for the miracles he performs.  Since he is known to deliver reliably and in a timely manner, payment should be made in the same manner.  It is in the matter of reciprocation, in New Orleans at least, that Catholic tradition and voodoo custom mingle.  Saint Expedite’s preferred method of exchange is to receive fresh flowers, a glass or rum, or a slice of pound cake.  The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who maintain the chapel, do not allow gifts to be left at the feet of Saint Expedite.  Instead, Mary Leveau becomes the beneficiary of these payments, accepting them in trust for the saint from those grateful for having their prayers answered.  
Though glasses of rum and slices of pound cake will not be found in Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel, slips of paper are often slipped under the statue’s base.  These are written with petitions to Saint Expedite from those who have nowhere else to turn.  In a city that contains as many miracles as it does need for intercession, Saint Expedite remains one of the most popular saints in New Orleans’ culture and daily life.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you St. Expedite for answering my prayers. You were able to provide me with the right financial assistance at the right time. I am eternally grateful! Thank you!


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