Cities of the Dead

Last Saturday, the sun finally shone after a very bone chilling week. I grabbed my camera and headed over to the St Roch Cemetery, one that I had never visited (only 12 min from our bed and breakfast in New Orleans). Many people visit the cemeteries to experience these beautiful places filled with above grounds tombs and the history of the people and their city. The architecture itself makes the visit worth it. You  actually do feel  like you’re walking through the streets of a neighborhood and the tombs are little houses.

This cemetery is very unique – it was built to celebrate the living.  New Orleans, in 1867, was under a fierce yellow fever epidemic.  There was little the city could do to halt the raging spread of the disease. Rev Peter Thevis fervently prayed to Saint Roch, a saint from medieval times who ministered to victims of the plague. His congregation was spared and he saw fit to the create the cemetery with his famous chapel. The Chapel is unquestionably the most unique in the city. It’s very small with  a few pews and  a hand – carved and painted wooden Gothic altar with a figure of Christ lying below the altar table. Most intriguing is the small room off to the side of the alter, where hundreds of small mementos of the cures credited to St Roch. From the walls are suspended leg braces and crutches, false teeth, artificial limbs, hands and feet, heads and ears. These objects are intended to “testify to the cures attributed to prayers offered to St Roch.” They actually returned to the shrine with a replica of the afflicted part of the body that had been healed. Sadly, there is a lock and chain across the chapel entrance these days but one can steal a peek  through the small window and witness this objects.

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