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St. Joseph’s Altar

st. joseph's altar new orleans

Today for the first time I partook in what’s considered a quintessential New Orleans tradition: the St. Joseph Altar. I’d seen photos, news reports, and reports from friends and family about these unique tributes to St. Joseph but never took the opportunity to actually go see one. This tradition was something started in Italy and carried by immigrants to the New World. The Crescent City is one of the few places that still carries on this tradition.

So today at lunch I drove down Tulane Avenue to St. Joseph Church and joined a stream of pilgrims to see this beautiful altar. There was the buying and selling in the main door of religious artifacts, then walking into the main part of the church there was a table lined with candles on sale for three dollars. I bought one and took it up to the alter which was constructed on the right altar in front of the church.

It was a sight to behold! Several tables set up beneath Joseph’s statue were lined with cakes and bread and fruit and bottles of wine and candles. There was something happy, bountiful and reverent about it all. I lit my candle and handed it to the woman behind the altar who placed it on a table with dozens of other lit candles.

Rows and rows of similar candles were around the altar given by people just like me today along with their prayers and offerings. A big basket was filled with green pieces of paper carrying written messages and requests to the saint.  So I grabbed one of the sheets and sat down and wrote out prayers for myself and my family, folded it and placed it in the basket.

Then I took a minute or two kneeling at the altar, gazing at the food and wine and candles. I closed my eyes and made some additional prayers and then quietly walked toward the back.

Several times I stopped and took in the beautiful architecture and grandeur of the place. I wondered if anyone would build a church like this today and what a shame it is that it seems nobody does. Stepping into this church is like stepping into another world, another time. It does have a European feel about it, something massive, graceful and reverent.

It feels good to take part in something that folks have been doing every year for generations not only in New Orleans but also in the Old Country.

Posted in New Orleans Culture, New Orleans Life.

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