Faith runs deep in the Crescent City
Faith in spiritual healing in New Orleans is more than just a story of voodoo or witchcraft, it runs deep within the traditional churches. Just take a look at the Catholic saints.
Saint Roch was a 14th-century pilgrim in Italy where he was said to have miraculously cured plague victims with prayer. When he became infected, he went into the forest, where a nobleman’s dog brought him bread and licked his wounds. He survived only to be executed later as a spy. After his death, stories of St. Roch’s healing made him sought after as people across Europe were stricken by the deadly Black Plague. Eventually he was called a saint.
When New Orleans was ravaged by yellow fever in the late 19th-century, a Catholic priest prayed to St. Roch to protect his parishioners and astonishingly, none died. In thanks, Reverend Peter Thevis vowed to build a chapel for St. Roch and he traveled to Europe to study Gothic architecture before building a fine example here.
Pilgrims started seeking out St. Roch’s chapel and praying before a statue of him accompanied by a small dog. On certain holy days, more than a thousand people crowded in to the small chapel to seek St. Roch’s healing.
Once cured, the faithful returned with prosthetic feet, legs, hands, or even artificial hearts, to thank St. Roch for his intercession on their behalf. Today, the chapel is closed while undergoing renovations but you can peer into a side window to see the dust-covered artifacts that have been left over the years.
Outside the chapel, Father Thevis established a graveyard for people from the parish. The above-ground mausoleums and wall crypts line several corridors with plastic roses and vases scattered along the walk.
Favorite toys and blessings are left for the newly departed by those left behind.
A visit to St. Roch’s cemetery and chapel is worth it for its historic value, but while you’re there it wouldn’t hurt to say a prayer to help an ache or pain.
All photos by Nancy Peckenham