St. Roch's Shrine and Campo Santo.

Corner of Washington and Roman streets. St. Roch's Campo Santo Cemetery, in a far-off corner of the city, away from the bustle and noise of modern life, is very curious; devout Catholics make pilgrimages to this shrine to pray for the Saint 's intercession to obtain divine favors. Some pray to get husbands, some for wives, some for children, others for wealth or other objects. The shrine, a vine-clad Gothic chapel in the centre, contains a pretty altar surmounted by a figure of St. Roch with his faithful dog and panels illustrating the Saint's life. St. Roch was born at Montpelier, France, in the thirteenth century, and in making a pilgrimage to Rome he passed through Piacenza where the plague was raging. He nursed the sick and finally succumbed, but dragging himself to a wood he was followed by his faithful dog which licked his sores till he recovered. He died in 1327 after a life of great sanctity and was canonized. Beneath the altar is a life-like figure of the Saviour in the tomb and around the sides of the chapel are the burial vaults of church societies. In the grounds are the fourteen Stations of the Cross of carved bas-reliefs in wood. The pilgrims making a novena purchase a taper at the gate and place it lighted at the foot of the altar, make their wishes, say the litany of St. Roch, and after depositing their alms make the way of the cross at the several stations. In one corner is the tomb of the nuns of the Perpetual Adoration Order, who pray in their convents, night and day, before the Host. In the rear cemetery is a mortuary chapel frescoed by the Carmelite monks and surmounted with a statue of St. Michael, archangel.


St. Roch Cemetery, St. Roch and Derbigny Sts. St. Roch is one of the quaintest of New Orleans' cemeteries. Modeled after the famous Campo Santo dei Tedeschi (Holy Field of the Germans) near St. Peter's in Rome, it was called the Campo Santo by its founder, Father Thevis, a young German priest, who had come to New Orleans at the request of the Bishop of New Orleans because of the scarcity of native priests. As assistant pastor of the Holy Trinity Church, he was confronted in 1868 with the loss of his pastor and many of the parishioners, victims of a yellow fever epidemic. In this extremity Father Thevis invoked the intercession of Saint Roch, famous for his wonderful work among the plague sufferers of the Middle Ages, promising to erect with his own hands the chapel of St. Roch, which has been a favorite shrine ever since. The cemetery soon grew up around it; its walls, with their chapel-like niches containing the Stations of the Cross within and tombs beneath, and Saint Michael's Mausoleum in the second section of the cemetery, were added soon afterwards. A steady stream of devout Catholics have made their journey to St. Roch for many years. Mass is said there every Monday morning, and on any day candles can be found burning before the altar, either in thanksgiving or in petition for some favor received or desired.


Perhaps the most picturesque cemetery of New Orleans is the Campo Santo of the Church of the Holy Trinity, situated in the Third district, and bounded by Washington avenue, Solidelle, Prosper and Music streets. The cemetery is small, and is only partially filled with graves and tombs, but it possesses several features of peculiar interest. The tomb of the Sisters of the Perpetual Adoration occupies one comer of the enclosure, and in the rear is a frescoed mortuary chapel, the work of the Carmelite monks. It is also the only cemetery in which the devout pilgrim can make "the way of the cross" in the open air, with only the blue vault of the sky for roof. The fourteen stations are carved in low relief on wood instead of being painted, as in the churches, and here at almost any hour of the day may be seen penitent suppliants following the "Via Dolorosa," the road to Calvary, trodden by the Great Martyr nearly two thousand years ago.

The supreme attraction of this little place of graves, however, is the chapel dedicated to Saint Roch, the patron of the sick, and more especially of those stricken by the plague. Saint Roch, according to the Boman breviary, was a native of Montpellier, France, said to have been born with the mark of the red cross upon his person, a sign interpreted as signifying future eminence. At the age of twelve he began to practice strict asceticism, and on the death of his parents when he was twenty, he gave all his substance to the poor and joined the Franciscan Tertiaries. Happening to be in Italy during the prevalence of the plague, he devoted himself to ministering to the sick in the public hospitals, and, falling ill himself at Piacenza, would have died in the forest had not the dog of a certain nobleman daily brought him a piece of bread. He died in prison at his native place, having been arrested as a spy on his return from Italy. Before his death he obtained from God the promise that persons stricken with the plague who invoked him should be healed. He is represented as, a pilgrim in the garb of a cavalier of the period, staff in hand, and a dog by his side.

The chapel is a wooden structure, Gothic in style, and so overgrown with ivy as to completely cover its walls. . The side walls are formed by tiers of vaults belonging to the societies of Saint Anne and Saint Joseph. Above each of these is a stained glass window inscribed to the patron saint. Its shrine is a favorite place of pilgrimage for the performance of novenas, the nine days' prayer vowed to some particular saint for the attainment of some desired good. The orthodox method of performing a novena is to walk (barefooted, according to the strictest rule) from one's home to the shrine of the saint, bearing a lighted taper, and without having broken fast. This must be done nine days in succession, the same prayer or invocation being many times repeated each day. It is said that this is sometimes done even now, and at Saint Roch's, but the more usual practice is to light the taper at the gate, and walking with it up the central avenue, place it at the foot of the shrine, at the same time naming the desired favor. The following invocation to Saint Roch is then recited:

O great Saint Roch, deliver us, we beseech thee, from the scourges of God. Through thy intercessions preserve our bodies from contagious diseases, and our souls from the contagion of sin. Obtain for us salubrious air; but, above all, purity of heart. Assist us to make good use of health, to bear suffering with patience, and, after thy example, to live in the practice of penance and charity, that we may one day enjoy the happiness which thou hast merited by thy virtues.
Saint Roch, pray for us (repeat three times).
Alms are then deposited in the box placed for their reception, and the suppliant "makes the way of the cross," repeating the prayers prescribed for the various stations, and adding that for the special object of the novena.

It is said that the young girls of the vicinity, and in fact throughout the city, who are anxious to exchange the single state for that of wedlock, are accustomed to pray every evening at St. Roch's shrine for a husband, but such prayers should be, and probably are, addressed to Saint Joseph, the patron of marriages, who has also a shrine in the chapel, and whose images are for sale at the gate by the sexton or janitor.



The chapel is a diminutive chancel of a Gothic church, and is constructed of brick covered with cement. Tall, narrow windows pierce the upper walls, while the lower reaches are covered with metal in imitation of wood paneling. The little altar is made of carved wood and has a small statue of Saint Roch and his faithful dog just above the tabernacle. The painted folding panels of the altarpiece are so badly faded that only the gold halos on the heads of the saints remain. Along the walls on each side of the altar are marble emblems and plaques, together with artificial limbs and crutches testifying to the cures that have been wrought through the intercession of the patron saint. In the floor of the chapel in front of the altar is the marble slab covering the grave of Father Thevis. Each Good Friday for many years young girls of New Orleans have made a pilgrimage to St. Roch's Chapel because of a local legend which promised a husband before the year was out to the maiden who said a prayer and left a small sum at each of nine churches. It was considered doubly lucky to end this pilgrimage at St. Roch's and to pick a four-leaf clover in the old cemetery. The red spots which appear on the clover there are said to result from the blood spattered by a bride-to-be who committed suicide on the grave of her lover.

In the alley to the right is the tomb of Stephen Zacharie, the founder of the first bank established in the Mississippi Valley. In a narrow alley, between the Artillery Tomb and the street, is the vault of the Chinese Society. After examining the various monuments, the stranger should go to the alley on the Canal street side of the cemetery (beyond the Portugese Tomb), at the end of which is a quiet nook, the private graveyard of the Layton family. In the same enclosure is a pretty chapel, used for the burial of the Jesuit priests. Retracing our steps by following the walls, which are lined with vaults, called "ovens" we regain the entrance. The inscriptions are in French, and often the words "Mort sur le champ d'honneur" or "victime de d'honneur'' are seen, which indicates the resting place of some one killed in a duel.



New Orleans History, 1897-1917