The Church of Our Lady Guadalupe
Nestled quietly away at the top of the French Quarter on N. Rampart street, The Our Lady Guadalupe Church seems to be just another worship house in a city full of beautiful churches. However, not all of them are adorned with a peaceful grotto or have such gruesome origins. Built in 1826, it connected the French Quarter and St. Louis Cemetery #1 behind it. At the time of construction, New Orleans was little more than the French Quarter and a collection of small surrounding neighborhoods. Space was limited due to the region’s high water table and thousands of people dying yearly due to Yellow Fever. The disease had ravaged the city since 1718. It was believed that it spread due to the miasma or odors emanating from the dead bodies of its victims. Bodies needed to be transported to the cemetery quickly to avoid further spread. There were so many deaths due to Yellow Fever that the church became known simply as “The Old Mortuary.”
A Home For The Dead
St. Louis Cemetery #1 and the Our Lady of Guadalupe used to be much larger. Modern construction has cut their original beauty in half. The cemetery used to line up directly behind the chapel through what is now Basin Street. While being a more modest church, it holds great importance to the people of New Orleans. A small shrine of St. Jude Thaddeus is kept in the chapel, as well as a lesser-known saint, one only found in New Orleans and worshiped by Voodoo practitioners, St. Expedite. The Our Lady of Guadalupe Church is undoubtedly haunted by one of the many souls who have passed through its doors.
Originally known as The Mortuary Chapel of St. Anthony Of Padua, it became the official place for the dead to be presented before entering the afterlife in New Orleans. In 1821 the city declared that it was now illegal to present the dead in the St. Louis Cathedral, the only Catholic Church in the city at the time. All the dead were to be presented to the newly founded church. By 1841 it was also being used for baptisms and funeral processions. The Our Lady of Guadalupe Church we know today was officially founded in 1918 by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
The Statue of St. Jude Thaddeus and St. Expedite
Two Saints are honored within the walls of the Our Lady of Guadalupe. One lucky enough to have his grotto provided. St. Jude Thaddeus, the patron Saint of Lost Causes, was honored by a small group of worshipers in 1935, right amid the great depression. He is prayed to in seemingly hopeless situations and is visited often. New Orleans is no stranger to feeling hopeless. Yellow fever, fires, Katrina, Ida, and other natural and man-made disasters have left the city feeling lost and doubtful. Yet the spirit of St. Jude Thaddeus continues to pull New Orleanians through to a brighter future. St. Expedite, however, has more mysterious beginnings and an even more mysterious cast of followers.
St. Expedite is venerated as both a Catholic saint and a Voodoo spirit. It was common in French and Spanish colonies for Voodoo practitioners to conceal their mighty spirits as Catholic saints to avoid persecution. St. Expedite is a Voodoo spirit only in New Orleans and a lesser venerated Catholic saint worldwide. He is the saint of getting things done quickly, a call for help in emergencies, and represents sailors, schoolboys, and shopkeepers. The Our Lady of Guadalupe Church is an ironic homestead for this speedy saint, as “The Big Easy” isn’t exactly known to be an expeditious town. There are multiple stories of how St. Expedite arrived in New Orleans; some say he came during the French Revolution, and some say in the early 1900s. It is common to offer him a pound cake, specifically a Sara Lee cake. You can visit his shrine and St. Jude’s in the beautiful grotto of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. Tales of Voodoo practitioners in the Old Mortuary have been told since St. Expedites arrival in the early 1900s. In particular, an unusual woman, star-crossed and in love with a Voodoo priest and his sexual prowess.
The Tale of Eupharsine Tabouis
Up until 1944, many residents of New Orleans grew accustomed to seeing a woman, haggard and draped in rags, a putrid stench aloft in the air around her, in and around the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. She was often seen in the streets begging for food or stopping passersby to simply present to them a small crushed leaf in exchange for their kindness. However, many did not know of her origins and the amorous tale that led her to her sordid state. A tale cast across the backdrop of the deep swamplands and centered around the darker aspects of Voodoo.
Tabouis was born the only daughter of a wealthy jeweler in New Orleans. By the time she was fifteen, her father, dying of an ailing heart condition, married her to a gentleman named Monsieur Pidgeon to secure her safety in a turbulent city. However, she quickly became unhappy with the arrangement, as Pidgeon was an older gentleman and quite boring to her young mind. On St. John’s Eve, a significant Voodoo holiday to this day, she was invited to a gathering at the Bayou St. John. There she was entranced by the body, soul, and dancing of one young Voodoo practitioner, Prince Basile. He had put her under his spell, and she abandoned her party to leave with the young gentleman. She became his concubine, but soon he grew tired of her, threw her out onto the streets, and she turned to a life of prostitution. She eventually returned to Basile’s shack on Lake Ponchatrain, but this time with a deep hatred for the man that had scorned her. She threw insults at him, and he slashed her foot wide open. She returned to Monsieur Pidgeon in a dilapidated condition. However, her mind was unstable, yelling obscenities and cursing his name, and he could no longer care for her. She was under the spell of Basile and turned to the streets, where she lived till her death in 1944.
Take a Voodoo tour to learn more of the positive and negative aspects of Voodoo, and along the way, be sure to stop into the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. Perhaps the spirit of Eupharsine Tabouis is still there, praying to St. Expedite in eternal hopelessness that Basile may one day take her back.
Featured Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Tallant, Robert. Voodoo in New Orleans. 6th edition. Pelican Publishing. 1980.