New Orleans holds many hidden treasures, curiosities tucked away for decades that are well-known by the neighborhood but a mystery to the wider world. One of these such gems lies in a part of town that has seen a bit of a resurgence over the past few years. That’s why this week’s GoNOLA Find is the St. Roch Cemeteries & Chapel, where more than a century’s worth of offerings have been left to a saint believed to heal all wounds.
The chapel’s founder, Father Peter Leonard Thevis, came to Holy Trinity Church in New Orleans from Germany in the mid-nineteenth century during a yellow fever outbreak. Father Thevis called upon St. Roch, a French martyr who was famous for caring for victims of the Plague during the 12th century. Popular throughout Europe, St. Roch supposedly survived the Plague with the help of a dog who brought him food; the faithful canine is now always depicted alongside St. Roch.
Father Thevis vowed that if no one in his congregation at Holy Trinity died of yellow fever, he would build a chapel in honor of the saint, as well as a cemetery for the parishioners. Church history maintains that none of the members of the church died of yellow fever during that first outbreak or even the next one in 1878, and so a chapel was built and a cemetery laid out.
Over the years, grateful neighborhood parishioners left offerings to thank St. Roch for healing them. The chapel now contains over a century’s worth of mementos, including plaster casts of feet and other body parts, leg braces of cured polio patients, false teeth and more.
St. Roch Cemeteries & Chapel are located at 1725 St. Roch Avenue, at the intersection of N. Roman Street, close to the St. Claude Avenue arts district. Hours are Monday – Saturday, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. and Sunday, 9 a.m. – 12 p.m., and are subject to change. Pay close attention to posted closing times, or you might get locked in. Looking to visit in a group? Ninth Ward Rebirth Bike Tours offers guided tours of the neighborhood.