New Sheriff in Town for Travelers?
Move Over Saint Christopher – Saint Expedite is in a Hurry
Saint Christopher, Patron Saint of Travelers – cherished and revered by the very faithful, kind of faithful, and downright agnostic traveler. He’s found dangling from rearview mirrors in cars, adorning buses, taxis and, truth be told, hanging from convenient protuberances, levers, and toggle switches on airliners. Saint Christopher medals and medallions, watch fobs, necklaces, bracelets, and keychains are the routine vade mecums of those on the move. In France it’s, “Regarde St. Christophe et va-t’en rassuré” (Look at St Christopher and go your way safely). In Spain it’s, “Si en San Cristóbal confías, de accidente no morirás” (If you trust St. Christopher, you won’t die in an accident). Many Austrians contribute small donations for every kilometer traveled safety to provide vehicles for missionaries.
But, from France to the Reunion islands; New Orleans towards Chile; around Cape Horn and up towards Brazil, there may be a new sheriff in town: San Expedito, Saint Expeditus, or Saint Expedite – the Patron Saint of soldiers, students, sailors, and, increasingly, travelers. He’s the guy you go to when you are in a hurry; when it can’t wait – when it has to be done NOW. The Patron Saint of urgent causes, of impossible causes, of prolonged legal challenges, the military, and students undergoing examinations. Just the go-to guy for travelers stuck in security lines, struggling to catch their next shuttle, train, flight, ferry, or cruise?
I first ran into Saint Expedite in New Orleans while on travel – on a booked city tour. Café du Monde and the ubiquitous beignets and chicory coffee, Bourbon Street, the French Quarter, and the Immaculate Conception Church – where our tour guide passed out a handful of St. Expedite medals like jelly beans. It seems that back in ante bellum days in New Orleans, the parish had sent to Italy to furnish their new church. The steam boat transporting the shipment exploded coming up the Mississippi and at least one crate washed up on the levee, addressed to the church and boldly marked SPEDITO. The marble statue inside was promptly named St. Expedite, transported to the church, and dubbed the Patron Saint of those in a hurry.
Now, over the years, I’ve encountered similar tales – and the explanation that Saint Expedite was a 3rd-century Roman soldier (“Expeditus” is Latin for a lightly armed, highly mobile soldier). Engaged in battle, he was overcome by the spirit of the Lord, threw down his sword, and prepared to declare for Christianity. The Evil One, in the guise of a carrion crow, flew down and cawed, “Cras!” (tomorrow). The legionnaire squashed the critter underfoot and insisted, “Hodie!” (Today), and was subsequently martyred. Throughout the western world, Saint Expedite is associated with the Roman god Mercury. His color is red, his day is Wednesday, and offerings range from clean water to red flowers, red wine, and in New Orleans at least, Sara Lee pound cake.
I’ve since traveled to the Baltic, French possessions, and South America. Saint Expeditus, San Expedito, Saint Expedite was there before me. Last month, as I rounded Cape Horn and disembarked at Puerto Madryn, Argentina, I quartered the town, visiting the obvious targets – port, town square, business center, and prominent churches. In a still unfinished church, Parroquia Sagrado Corazon de Jesus, there he was. The church was unfinished but the chapel was open to the public. And there, paired with the Madonna, was the increasingly ubiquitous Saint Expedite.
So which saint commends himself most to the modern traveler? Saint Christopher – the big burly Canaanite who carried the Christ child safely across the turbulent floods, or the Roman legionnaire who wouldn’t delay his conversion for even another day? Patron Saint of bachelors, ferryman, transportation, traveling, and storms (and gardeners, epilepsy, toothache, and children)? Or Patron Saint of emergencies, expeditious solutions, procrastination, merchants, navigators, and soldiers (and students, programmers, hackers, and revolutionaries)? Both appear to have been “men of their hands” and men of action. Both appear to date from the 2nd to 3rd centuries, and neither are in the official canon of the saints. Saint Christopher has the added advantage of being “mainstream.” Saint Expedite has the dubious distinction of being particularly permeable when it comes to indigenous beliefs, customs, and ceremonies. That “permeability” has endowed the San Expedito avatar with an offensive capability that can smite those that would delay the petitioner (like pesky customs officials or security screeners). It might feel rather empowering in a karmic sort of way to hurl a few lightning bolts at the bureaucratic eunuchs who slow us down, who impede our progress, who postpone and delay our immediate goals.
So, which saint commends himself most to the modern traveler? Tough call, can’t decide? In a hurry? Need to catch that flight in the face of seemingly impossible odds? Hmm. There may even be time to stock up on Sara Lee pound cake…