All lwa in Voudon belief have a corresponding Catholic Saint. This had to do with the African religion being practiced openly under the nose of Catholic slaveholders in what is now Haiti and what was then Saint Dominique or San Domingue. A statue or picture of the Blessed Virgin in her guise as the Stella Maris would be set up as the centerpiece for an altar to the mermaid La Siren and who would be the wiser? As the process of assimilation continued, the Catholic faith leaked into the African religion. Many voudonisants and rootworkers call themselves Catholic. The famous Marie Leveau, Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, stopped practicing hoodoo all together and “became a Catholic” in later life.
In the case of the Lord of the Ghede, Baron Samedi, the corresponding Saint is known as Expedite. This was not always the case, however, and is in fact not generally the case in Haiti. In Haitian Voudon the Ghede tend not to be represented by Saints. A cross will do nicely, particularly if it is painted black or purple. The association with St. Expedite (shown above on a prayer card) came out of the Crescent City and the story is not only amusing but a true tale of cultures mingling while they are still at crossed purposes.
In Catholicism proper there is no St. Expedite. Believe me. I was raised Catholic, did my time in CCD and have not only my jumbo book of saints for all things and days but my mother’s family Bible with the “Names of the Saints” section that includes such obscure entries as St. Cleopatra and St. Mel. Mom consulted it to come up with my name and never forgave Dad’s Creole kin for giving me a second, French version. “There is no St. Pauline,” she’d say. “She’s not in the book.” And, like Pauline, if there was a St. Expedite he’d be in one or both of these handy references.
The story goes that after the Louisiana Purchase but before Louisiana became a state, a package was shipped to St. Louis Cathedral from a Catholic Diocese in New England. The crate was stamped with the word “Expedite” as so frequently happened when mailing items to the unknown frontier but the Creole speaking Haitian men who were opening the mail had no idea what that meant. They read the word though and when they opened the crate they found a beautiful statue of a Roman soldier with golden armor, a gold halo and holding a cross. Surly, they agreed between them, this must be St. Expedite (pronounce “Ex-pa-DEET”).
The word got out and people began lighting candles before the new statue in the Cathedral. When it seemed that rootwork would be more successful and that success would come faster if St. Expedite was invoked, he got a reputation for helping things along. This, in turn, began his association with the lwa who watches over NOLA then and now, Baron Samedi. And all because of a stamp on a crate.
Is the story true? I would never be so bold as to say definitively “Yes!” because that would be foolish. As Hamlet told Horatio, there are more things in … Well; you know the rest. So for now, Au revoir ~