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Friday, August 10, 2012

My View of St. Roch's Campo Santo Cemetery

  To continue my series on New Orleans' Cities of the Dead, we'll take a look at a lesser known cemetery in the Big Easy.  St. Roch's Campo Santo is a little off the beaten path for the tourists, and is unique among its companion cemeteries.  The two cemeteries dedicated to St. Roch are directly across the street from each other.  The first was dedicated in 1875.  Its unusual patron is a Saint that very few American Catholics outside of New Orleans are familiar with.  This French wayfarer is linked to a great outpouring of miraculous healings back in the early 1300's.  The stories center mostly around epidemics such as the Black Plague.  Father Thevis arrived in New Orleans during a Yellow Fever outbreak in the 1860s.  He dedicated his life to caring for the sick and led a campaign to build a chapel and its subsequent cemetery to St. Roch.

  Here you can see the much larger chapel built in the second cemetery.  The first chapel is famed for its "Threshold of Healing" room, just off the side of the chapel, where pilgrims bring plaster copies of anatomical parts, called ex-votos, which represent the healing they received while calling upon St. Roch to intervene for them.  This oddities room draws the few tourists who are willing to step off that beaten path.  Again, there are warnings about the neighborhood around these cemeteries and I would only suggest that as with any big city you visit during the middle of the day and be aware of your surroundings.

  Also in the second cemetery, you'll see this larger section of coping tombs.  All of St. Roch's is far more rigidly designed than most of the other cemeteries, and it is well cared for.  It is said that it is one of the busiest cemeteries on All Saints' Day, which is the traditional time for families to visit and perform maintenance on the crypts.

  This picture here is another example of the orderly design of the cemetery .  The avenues are wide, and the monuments are not only clean and free of wear, they are also intact.  You'll see almost no evidence of grave-robbing.  The site it known to have had several long term caretakers who dedicated a great deal of their time to the care of St. Roch's.

  In the original cemetery, the wall vaults are interspersed with these alcoves wherein you'll find life-sized statues imported from Italy, which depict the fourteen stations of the cross.  Here you see the 14th station depicting Jesus being laid in his tomb.  I hope to return to St. Roch's one day and photograph each of the stations.  If I do, I'll be sure to post them for all to see.

  This is the central courtyard of the original cemetery.  The Gothic design of the chapel is based on the Campo Santo de'Tedeschi, a church and cemetery beside Saint Peter's which was built for Germans living in Rome.  The statue of the child in front of the cross was once rumoured to be the first corpse interred in the cemetery wrapped in plaster, though this was not true.  It is a full body ex-voto that a mother donated in thanks to St. Roch for healing her sick child.
  St. Roch's does not offer the same atmosphere as the older, more worn cemeteries near the French Quarter, but its room of plaster body parts has a touch of the macabre that ensures this cemetery its membership in the mysterious world of New Orleans' Cities of the Dead.  What is clearly evident here is the care and love which has been poured into these grave sites throughout the years.

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