Saint Expedite: A Real Saint?
Some would claim, in answer to the above question, that Saint Expedite really did not exist. In reply to that claim, we need to point out that he is indeed found in the Roman Martyrology, his feast day celebrated on April 19. He died very early in the fourth century during the persecution of Diocletian, along with several others, in what is now Malatya, Turkey. The long-held belief is that these martyrs were Armenians who were slain because they had become Christians. Saint Expedite himself was a Roman Centurion. Sadly, he was one of the saints purged from the calendar after Vatican II, along with Saint Christopher and Saint Philomena, two who are precious to many Catholics. However, those who hold him dear don’t seem to care about that and remain devoted to him.
For more than a millennium, Saint Expedite remained obscure, so little was known about him. During the Middle Ages, he was venerated in the area of Turin, Italy. Then, during the seventeenth and eighteenth century, his cult began to blossom in Germany and Sicily, and his popularity grew elsewhere too. There are at least two stories that are very similar — one taking place in France and the other in New Orleans. It seems that, in the French version, a case containing the relics of a saint was delivered to a convent in Paris. The case was marked “expedite.” The good sisters, being familiar with the Martyrology, assumed the relics inside were those of the early martyr. In the New Orleans version, several cases of statues were delivered to Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. The good sisters there had ordered the statues to grace the church, which was newly built. One of the cases, again, marked “expedite,” contained the statue of a saint whose identity was mysterious. The dear sisters assumed him to be the saint of that name (instead of assuming that the word stamped on the outside actually meant “hurry this package along”). Saint Expedite stands today in that same church on Rampart Street in the Crescent City, which, incidentally, is the oldest standing church building in the city. It dates from 1826 when it was built as a funeral chapel for yellow fever victims.
An Interesting Depiction
Our saint’s statue stands dressed as a Roman soldier, his left hand holding a palm leaf — the symbol of martyrdom — while his right hand is raised high and holds a cross bearing the word hodie (today). His left foot is stomping on a crow which carries a ribbon in its mouth with the word cras (tomorrow) written on it. The symbolism is clear: when the soldier was presented with the opportunity to become Christian, the devil in the form of the crow, appeared and told him to wait until tomorrow. Saint Expedite, in reply, stomped the crow to death and shouted “Today, I will become a Christian.” Thus, it is expeditious to become a Christian today rather than wait until tomorrow, for by then you could be dead and have forfeited your chance at salvation. Whether the story is true or not, it served as a good lesson in the importance of declaring and accepting the Christian Faith.
Saint Expedite Is Adopted
It is well-known that several Catholic saints, including the Virgin Mary herself, have been adopted by believers in fetish-like cult religions, especially Haitian Voodoo, and some other African tribal fetishes that became established in the Caribbean islands. Santeria comes to mind, which became popular in Cuba. There is also the practice of the African/American magical tradition of Hoodoo, found in some parts of the Southern United States, particularly New Orleans, in which African deities, good and evil, are merged with a veneer of Catholicism. With the practitioners of Santeria in Cuba, Saints Barbara, Lazarus, Peter, Anthony, and the Virgin of Charity (the Patroness of Cuba) are superstitiously venerated. They are in reality African deities made legitimate, so to speak, by being represented as Catholic saints. This practice stems from the time of the slave trade in the Caribbean. Many of the slaves who were baptized refused to give up their native beliefs, and to make them more acceptable to the local Christians, they adopted Catholic saints’ names for their primitive spirits.
So it is with Saint Expedite. In New Orleans, among adherents of the Hoodoo magic, Saint Expedite represents to these practitioners, Baron Samedi, actually an evil spirit of the underworld. Followers of Haitian Voodoo venerate him as representing Baron Lakwa, also an evil spirit. The followers of these dark cults used Catholic saints to disguise their mysterious and occult beliefs and to give their ceremonies an air of legitimacy.
The Strange Case of Reunion Island
Our saint’s cult also exists on a tiny remote island in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Madagascar. Reunion Island, a French possession, has an unusual mixture of folks — white Europeans, Indians, Africans, Chinese, and Vietnamese — making up its small population. Roadside altars to Saint Expedite, always painted red, are found in great numbers. He seems here to be revered by Christians, animists, Buddhists, and Hindus as the spirit to appeal to when one wants a thing done in a hurry. A bizarre feature of the saint’s Devotees in Reunion has them decapitating the statues of the saint if he does not come across with their favors quickly enough! It seems that no one wants to be seen venerating Saint Expedite at these roadside altars; it is rare to spot someone during the day, but the altars are well tended and there are always petitions being left at them.
Veneration in Chile
San Expedito’s veneration in the South American country of Chile is more Catholic. There is no syncretism about it and his adherents are true Christians. Devotion to him in Chile centers around the coastal city of Vina del Mar, popular because of its beach on the Pacific. It seems that a pious woman visiting the city, who had great devotion to the saint, wanted to build a small church there in his honor. When she petitioned the local Church authorities for permission, it was rejected. However, she and her friends prayed to Saint Expedite for acceptance, and the local authorities relented and had the church built.
Patron of Computer Nerds?
Because of our saint’s association with granting favors hurriedly, some have jokingly suggested that he is the perfect patron for computer enthusiasts. Our technological society has become so dependent upon finding information fast thatthis may seem an appropriate association. No doubt the real Saint Expedite would be totally surprised at some of the modern reasons for seeking his favors. He was in a hurry to save his soul; his focus was on what is important in this life — getting to the right place in the next.
Saint Expedite, pray for us!