“Medicine is magical, and magical is art…”

After he’s wandered the French Quarter for the thousandth time and snapped a sufficient number of crawfish in half, what does the errant medievalist do when he’s in New Orleans? Demonstrating a disregard for common sense which he urges his dear readers not to emulate, he seeks out a shrine to a medieval saint in the city’s Ninth Ward.

In the heart of a half-abandoned neighborhood, the small, above-ground cemetery occupies two compact blocks.

The saint’s shrine is pleasant but unremarkable—until you look at it from the side. Then it become an apse whose cathedral has flown away.

Inside the shrine stands the saint, with a friend. According to medieval legend, Roch miraculously cured the sick while making the pilgrimage to Rome. Eventually he also came down with the plague, but miracles—and food provided by a dog—kept him alive. The dog’s name is unknown, but “it has been reported that some people think the dog is at least as holy as Roch and offer prayers to the dog.”

In 1867, after his entire congregation survived a yellow fever outbreak, the New Orleans priest who prayed for the saint’s intercession raised this shrine in thanks—and, as an inscription over the front door reveals, “in fulfillment of vow.”

A barred alcove holds a collection of tokens offered by the grateful. Most of them represent body parts believed to have been cured through the saint’s intercession. Several pairs of old, awful crutches hang against the wall.

Outside, even as a storm rolls in, the cemetery is peaceful: empty, but hardly sad.

A hint of sadness waits across the street, where a monument to miraculous cures faces the troubles of the 21st century. Rarely have the Middle Ages seemed like the more hopeful place to be.

One thought on ““Medicine is magical, and magical is art…”

  1. Wow, thank you for sharing this. A very cool, and very poignant, story and photos. I was in New Orleans for business last summer, and was shocked by its ghost-town feel. I mean, you see the photos and hear the stories, but until you go, you don’t really understand.

    Like

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