Wednesday, 24 May 2017

The Mysterious St Expedite

I live in Glastonbury. It’s a place full of traditions concerning saints and historical figures whose details can be considered downright dubious if not entirely false. Joseph of Arimathea and King Arthur are the prime examples. We can add saints Patrick, Bridget, and Benignus. There is something about the atmosphere surrounding these people here that is nonetheless compelling and beautiful. An attitude of devotion seems to bear fruit. 

Coming from such a background has probably helped me to appreciate the profoundly mysterious Saint Expedite, revered as a great worker of miracles concerning money and luck, despite all manner of problems in establishing his historical credentials.

We have a modest biographical story that is not entirely dissimilar to that of a number of other saints. Expedite was a Roman soldier from Armenia, who made the decision to convert to Christianity. The Devil appeared to him either in the form of a crow or a snake and tried to persuade him to wait until the following day to finalise his decision. Expedite slew the animal immediately, affirming that he would be a Christian that very day. This part of his story is depicted in standard images of him where he has one foot standing on the dying crow holding a ribbon in its beak with the word Cras written on it, which means tomorrow, and has the Latin word Hodie, meaning today,  written on a cross he is holding up. Expedite is thereby connected with procrastination-busting and fast solutions to problems. In 303AD, during the time of a persecution of Christians by the Emperor Diocletian, Expedite was one of the victims of a mass beheading. April 19th is honoured as the date of this. 

The source material for his story is minimal. The fifth century Martyrology of Jerome lists saints and martyrs with the dates of their feast days. That this source contains difficulties is obvious in the case of Expedite who is listed for two consecutive days, April 18th and 19th, suggesting that the compiler was a tad slipshod. He has no official relics. It’s difficult to find traces of devotion to him until recent times. Back in the sixties, the Second Vatican Council included him among a number of saints whose status was revoked. Nonetheless, his devotion in some parts of the world has not just persisted but intensified.

His very name is problematical. The details of the development of his devotion are full of punning and word play that don’t seem suggestive of historical veracity. A great example of the peculiarities involved in dealing with him can be found in a number of essentially identical stories found in France, Brazil, Haiti, and New Orleans. A crate containing the bones of a saint is delivered to a religious community with a word such as Spedito written on it. This suggests its delivery was marked as urgent but the recipients take it to refer to the name of the saint as no other documentation indicates the identity. 

His greatest popularity is probably in New Orleans, where he has been considered to be a kind of patron saint of the city. A variant of the crate story supposedly dating from around 1900 has Spanish priests ordering a statue of the Virgin Mary and two crates being received. The second contained a statue of a male dressed as a Roman soldier and was simply labelled Espedito. Another version extends back a century and features French nuns. In both versions the statue becomes venerated and attracts increasing attention due to apparent rapid answering of prayers. This rapidity is clearly connected with the name Expedite. There are many cases where the attributes of saints, the kind of things one might prayer to them for, are developed from their names due to the paucity of information about them. These are the kinds of figures who might endure in folk traditions.

New Orleans is a legendary cultural mix. The veneration of saints crosses over from Catholicism into Voodoo and Hoodoo. Devotion blends with magic. Expedite is petitioned more on certain days. He is associated with colours of candles and so on. There is a particular way of arranging an altar when a request is being made. Novenas and general prayers accompany this. He has become best known not just for procrastination busting but for rapid solutions that usually involve money to otherwise intractable life problems. There is a protocol for thanking him when it is felt he has intervened. Flowers are offered. Cakes. He is publicly saluted. In the modern age of social media that might involve a Facebook or Twitter post. 

Veneration of St Expedite in such a manner could not persist without the innumerable accounts  of those feeling that they have had definite results from their prayers.

This post itself fulfills a promise made to Saint Expedite. 

I am indebted to The Conjurer’s Guide to St Expedite by Denise M Alvarado for a wealth of obscure information and details on how to approach the saint. 

Glory be to St Expedite.