So I have this project I’ve been ruminating on for a while, Saints of Louisiana. About 2/3 of what I photograph seems to be religious in nature somehow: churches, cemeteries, shrines. And last fall I read Judika Ille’s Mystics, Saints, and Sages
. Every entry has a section at the end listing major international places of worship or veneration for each figure, and gee, there certainly are a lot of them in south Louisiana. Most, but by no means all, in New Orleans. Coincidentally, I had already photographed a couple of them, such as the St. Roch shrine, which I semi-jokingly like to claim is my favorite place in the city. (It really kind of is, though.)
So I thought, why not do them all? I’d like to turn it into a book whenever I’m finished, even if it’s just a self-made one from MILK Books.com.
I managed to get a couple more shot before summer weather shut me down, like Charlene Richard’s grave (the “Little Cajun Saint”), but then I kind of put it on hold until the weather got nicer. Like I said, a lot of them are in New Orleans, and I’d like to combine a bunch of them so I can do them all in 2 or 3 trips.
Saturday before last was one visit and I crossed a few things off the list. The primary visit was the New Orleans Chapel of the Santisima Muerte—“Most Holy Death”. I liked the Facebook page a while back and I contacted Steven Bragg, aka Sta Muertero Steven, who built and runs the chapel, through it. He was extremely nice, told me to photograph whatever I wanted, and even invited me into his home (the chapel is in his front yard, essentially) to shoot his personal devotional space.
Next stop was the national shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, the matron saint of both the state of Louisiana and the archdiocese of New Orleans. She has a double meaning, because to some followers of New Orleans Voodoo she is an avatar of Erzulie Dantor, and the child in her arms isn’t Jesus but her daughter Anais. Some people credit her with turning Hurricane Katrina away from the city (too bad she couldn’t keep the levee from breaking). The statue was commissioned by the head of the Ursulines (a religious order with very long ties to NOLA) in 1810. It was smaller than I expected! And in the photos I’ve seen it’s usually high up in a wall niche, but that day it was on a little table. There was some construction being done to the outside of the building, so maybe they were afraid the vibrations would knock it off and cause it to be broken.
Then I went to Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is the oldest original church in New Orleans. It was originally a mortuary chapel for St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, which is right behind it. There’s an international shrine of St. Jude there, which used to contain a statue of St. Expedite. I didn’t see it, and I wondered if it had been removed because St. Expedite is such a favorite with rootworkers. I only saw a statue of St. Florian; but looking at the photos now, there’s another statue in there that might be St. Expedite, but I can’t see it clearly enough to tell. It looks like he’s holding something up and looking towards the ground, which makes me think it is, because St. Expedite is always depicted holding up a cross and stomping on a crow. If it is him I don’t know how I missed it, other than wanting to be fast and discrete because there were a lot of people in there. I’ll go back and take another look next trip.
Then I went to the cemetery, because it was right there and I had time, even though it’s packed with tour groups on the weekends and kind of annoying. I just popped in for a few minutes to kill the rolls (I was using my Lomo LC-A+ and Yashica MG-1) with some photos of Marie Laveau’s tomb. Not the Glapion tomb; the unmarked one.
Side note: a while back somebody in one of the NOV/Hoodoo Facebook groups that I belonged to at the time (I recently quit several of them) claimed he was going to “sacrifice a dove” at her grave during an upcoming trip to NOLA. I don’t know why you would even do that, because animal sacrifice is not and has never been part of the veneration of Marie Laveau. People offer her money, alcohol, candles, flowers, even beauty and hair products (because she was a hairdresser by trade). She doesn’t want your tortured-to-death* animals, okay? I was like, you know there’s a constant crowd of tourists around that tomb, right? Enjoy the shocked/outraged reactions (which I suspect was the real motivation for this nonsense) and your stay in jail, probably.
*I have nothing against animal sacrifice when it is an established part of a religious ritual practiced by people who know what the fuck they’re doing. I’m pretty sure this proposal did not fall under either category.