Puns on saints' names are not uncommon, but that a saint
named Expeditus should be invoked against procrastination
just seems too good.
There was a real St. Expeditus: He was one of six Armenian
Christians, possibly Roman soldiers, who were martyred in
Melitene. His fellow martyrs are Sts. Hermogenes, Gaius,
Aristonicus, Rufus and Galata. There is documentary evidence
that St. Expeditus was venerated in Turin in northern Italy
during the Middle Ages. From there, devotion to him spread to
Germany and Sicily in the 17th century, but how he became the
saint of procrastinators is harder to pin down.
The version with the widest circulation claims that late in
the 18th century relics of a martyr, along with a statue,
were shipped from Rome to a Paris convent. Neither the relics
nor the statue were labeled, but the shipping crate was
marked "Spedito," which the nuns assumed was the name of the
saint. The sisters Latinized Spedito into St. Expeditus. It's
a good story, but it does sound like a holy urban legend.
An older legend tells us that on the day Expeditus resolved
to become a Christian, the devil came to him in the form of a
raven and tried to persuade him to put off his conversion
until the next day. Expeditus declared, "No! I will be a
Devotion to St. Expeditus has spread around the globe. In the
United States he is popular among New Orleans Catholics, who
tell a story similar to the French legend. The Church of Our
Lady of Guadalupe received several crates of statues of
saints. One of the statues was unidentified, but on the crate
was the French term, Expedit, so that was taken to be the
unknown saint's name.
In Sao Paolo, Brazil, hundreds of thousands of Catholics
crowd into the churches for Mass on the saint's feast day.
The French introduced St. Expeditus to the inhabitants of
Reunion, an island in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar.
The saint's cult is particularly strong there, witness the
countless private handmade shrines and altars lining the
roads. Chile is another center of devotion to St. Expeditus,
particularly at the beach resort of Vina del Mar where a
small church dedicated to him has become a popular
destination for pilgrims.
In art St. Expeditus is usually shown dressed as a Roman
soldier, holding the palm frond that is the symbol of
martyrdom in one hand, and raising above his head a cross on
which is inscribed the word "Hodie," Latin for "Today," and
trampling on a raven labeled "Cras," Latin for "Tomorrow." In
Germany, however, St. Expeditus is depicted pointing at a
clock, a reminder not to waste time, or procrastinate.
Craughwell is the author of numerous books about the saints,
including Saints Preserved: An Encyclopedia of Relics (Image
Books, 2011) and Saints Behaving Badly (Doubleday, 2006).