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The Chapel of Prosthetics, New Orleans's St Roch Cemetery

Beyond the tombstones, at the back of St. Roch cemetery in the US city of New Orleans, Louisiana, lies the shrine of St. Roch, dedicated to the 14th century Catholic saint, who was known to have miraculous healing powers. Legend has it that when Saint Roch arrived in Italy, Europe was in the midst of yet another plague epidemic. Saint Roch visited hospitals throughout the country taking care of the sick, and many is said to have been cured by his healing touch.

The shrine at St. Roch cemetery is located inside a small two-room building. The main room contains an altar with a statue of St. Roch and his little dog by his side. To the right of the altar is a small side room with an arched door. This room is of particular interest.


Photo credit: Infrogmation of New Orleans/Flickr

Over the centuries people have come to this chapel and offered ex-votos in the form of prosthetic body parts in hopes of being cured by whatever disease they are afflicted with. Today, dangling from the walls of this small room and collecting dust are leg braces, glass eyes, dental plates, hearts of plaster, locks of hair and numerous other ceramic body parts.

From the time of its founding in 1876, the New Orleans shrine of St. Roch has been associated with healing and protection from illness. The shrine and its associated cemetery was commissioned by a young German priest, Father Peter Leonard Thevis, as token of appreciation after the priest’s congregation survived a yellow fever epidemic. At the time, New Orleans was a breeding ground for yellow fever and cholera. After one particularly deadly outbreak in 1860s killed thousands, Father Thevis promised that if no one in his congregation succumbed to the epidemic that year, he would build a monument to St. Roch. That year, not one member of the church died, and Father Thevis kept his word.

The shrine was modeled after Rome’s Campo Santo de Tedeschi, a religious complex for Germans located on the southern part of St. Peter’s Basilica. Once the shrine opened, believers seeking cures began flocking to the chapel and left offerings of gratitude for filled promises of recovery.

Decades later, a new tradition sprung up in New Orleans. Young girls seeking husbands would make a pilgrimage to each of the city’s nine churches, praying and paying alms. It was considered doubly lucky if St. Roch’s chapel was the end of the pilgrimage.


Photo credit: gwen/Flickr


Photo credit: Traveling Mermaid/Flickr


Photo credit: Traveling Mermaid/Flickr


Photo credit: Darrell Miller/Flickr


The floor of the room is paved with tiles bearing the word “thanks”. Photo credit: Kevin O'Mara/Flickr


Photo credit: Darrell Miller/Flickr


Photo credit: Bart Everson/Flickr

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