St. Expedite

26 05 2011

More on the saint via the Lonely Goth blog:

“In the same family, you can find a Chinese Taoist, an Indian Muslim, a metropolitan Catholic, an African witch doctor and a Tamil Hindu,” I was told by a Tamil Catholic priest. “It all makes a lot of work for the priesthood: we are continually having to explain to our parishioners what is and is not Christianity.”…

In 1931 a box of sacred relics arrived from the Vatican. Somewhere in transit the label detailing the saint’s name had been lost, and the only indication as to its contents was a stamp on the side reading, in Italian, “ESPEDITO” (expedited). So began the cult of St Expedit, whose popularity grew year by year, until what had started as a clerical error ended with St Expedit becoming RĂ©union’s unofficial patron saint, a saint whose unwritten biography has come to crystallise the most profound hopes and fears of the island’s multiple ethnicities.

There are now about 350 shrines on RĂ©union dedicated to St Expedit. They sit beside every road junction, crown every hilltop, lie deep in the bottom of the island’s wildest ravines.

The local Catholic Church has given the saint the trappings of an early Christian martyr, with a silver breastplate and a red tunic. Hindus treat St Expedit as an unofficial incarnation of Vishnu; those wanting children come to his shrine and tie saffron cloths to the grilles.

More exotic still, some of the island’s sorcerers have given the cult a slightly sinister aspect by decapitating the saint’s image, either to neutralise his power or to use the head in their own incantations. According to Loulou, the sorcerer at Ilet des Trois Salazes had a small oratory in which he kept several heads of St Expedit.

“He used them to cast spells,” said Loulou. “We were all terrified of him: everyone believed he had very strong powers. But in the end the people kicked him out because he began to demand bribes not to cast spells on us all.”

“Weren’t you frightened that he would take revenge on you?”

“We took precautions,” replied Loulou. “We used stronger magic. We sent someone to the grave of La Sitarane in Saint-Pierre. It is the most powerful grave on the island. With La Sitarane on your side, no one can harm you at all.”