A patron saint for procrastinators

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 Christian today!"

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).

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2012