a healer of broken bones lay shattered on the stone.
the statue of saint roch crashed to the floor from its perch today. i came across the scene while visiting the national shrine to saint roch nestled into a raised cemetery five blocks behind the abandoned market. glancing up the bell tower as i stepped through the chapel doors i found three others, shocked, pondering the cause of the destruction that occurred only moments before. a young man named vincent studied the forensics and articulated a theory i’ve already forgotten. after only a few minutes, vincent and his friends rode away on their bicycles. i hunched sadly over the remains, violently twisted in the hard collision with marble stone.
i’m uncurious about the exact motive of this death, so struck am i by the event itself, another murder in the long list of murders endured here. this was unlikely an accident, some structural failure 17 months in the making, since four feet of water flooded the shrine. saint roch stood high above the heavy stone altar, securely perched above the water line. a gash in the wood behind roch’s left shoulder suggests he put up a struggle. i fear our chapel became a crime scene, a crime with unimaginable motive. heartbreakingly, saint roch lay in pieces. his face, complete though separated from the remainder of his cranium along the ear line, lay gazing heavenly straight up.
preciously close lay the corpus of jesus, dead in his tomb below the altar. on his right side, jesus gazes slightly down upon his friend’s face, grieved by the loss of one who has surely become a dear confidante. what conversations they’ve had since 1875….
as evidence of saint roch’s healing intervention, cast-off feet, relic-like fingers, concrete eyeballs and broken, sickly body parts sit packed alongside unneeded crutches and artificial limbs joyfully abandoned in a tiny vestibule on the chapel’s right side, this all to the credit of saint roch, whose intervention saved the lives of the congregation of Reverend Peter Thevis, a german priest. a brutal yellow fever epidemic gripped the city in 1867. and to fulfill the vow made after roch answered his prayers, Father Thevis built the shrine. saint roch had endured the pain of plague himself, and had turned away from inherited riches and lived devoted to the care of the poor. he once went off into the woods to die, but was cared for by a loyal dog and recovered. images of the saint often include a bloody look at plague lesions, with at least one painting oddly risque for modern sensibilities while showing high up an infected leg.
no matter the unique and perhaps bizarre accounts, whether you’re a believer or unbeliever, saint roch has heard our city’s prayers for 130 years. and today, in an act of violence as nonsensical as the other killing in new orleans, we lost another man, a healer, a miracle maker devoted to our sick and poor. today we lost another neighbor, a doctor of sorts who has comforted our afflicted for generations. today, we turned yet again to an earlier time of random death, as we create another brutal epidemic, one that spares not even the unliving.
saint roch, please heal our sick, those who are so desperate and frightened as to be tricked into the life of guns and drugs, our neighbors gripped by the mistaken promise of killing as a solution. saint roch, hear our prayer, broken as you are, victim, witness to the power of violence. we need you, saint roch. or have you been lost to us, as well?