Thursday, December 17, 2015

Saint Joseph, Will You Sell My House?

By Kim Rendfeld

When my husband and I decided to sell our house in a small Indiana town, I buried a 3-inch-tall statue of Saint Joseph upside-down close to the front door, even before the for-sale sign went up. Nine years ago, he had sold our rural home just in time to avoid our paying two mortgages, and this Protestant was counting on a repeat performance.

By Peter Paul Rubens, 1615
(public domain] via Wikimedia Commons)
As with many customs, the origin of this one are hazy. The best known story is that Saint Teresa of Avila, a 16th century nun, and her sisters needed land for a second convent for the growing Order of Discalced Carmelite Nuns. At first, they couldn’t afford the property they wanted. Then they buried medals of Saint Joseph and prayed to him, and they were able to buy it. (For those of you reaching for the dictionary, discalced means barefoot or wearing sandals, part of the nuns’ lives of solitude, austerity, and prayer.)

There is no way to tell if the story is truth or invention, but it is plausible. Saint Joseph was important to Teresa. She had coped with illness throughout her life, and she believe Saint Joseph’s intercession allowed her to recover enough to pursue her calling. She named her first convent after him.

Another possibility is that long-ago German workmen put a statue in the walls or foundation of the homes they were building. The assertion has a ring of truth to it. In folk tales, children are walled up in the basement as an offering to the gods. If such a practice existed, the Church would have encouraged a Christian symbol like a cross or saint’s medal be substituted, as is did for healing spells and other pagan riutals.

Perhaps burying the statuette is a variation of medieval Christian conquerors planting a cross or banner in new territory. Or it might have something to do with a figure of Saint Anthony being held for ransom upside-down until he found a match for someone’s daughter.

Photo by Kim Rendfeld
Today’s ritual has variations. The statue should be near the front step or the for-sale sign. The saint should face away from the house or where the homeowner wants to go. He should be buried horizontally or vertically. Above all, when the house sells, the statue should be unearthed and put on the mantel or a place of honor in the new house. The penalties for failure to dig him back up fall on the innocent buyers. Either the house will never sell again or it will constantly change hands.

A few days ago, my husband and I closed on the house we’re selling, and Saint Joseph came out of the ground. Now if you will excuse me, I must get back to packing.

Sources

When It Takes a Miracle to Sell Your House: Owners, Realtors Bury Statues of St. Joseph to Attract Buyers; Don't Forget to Dig Him UpThe Wall Street Journal, Oct. 30, 2007

Property Rites,” Snopes 

How the Tradition of Using a Saint Joseph Statue to Sell Home Got Started,” Saint Joseph Statue

St. Joseph, Real Estate Agent?” Fish Eaters 

"St. Teresa of Avila" by Benedict Zimmerman, The Catholic Encyclopedia,

Carmelite Chronicles: Teresa’s Ideal of the Carmelite Life” by Fr. Joachim Smet, Order of Carmelites blog,

Kim Rendfeld is the author of two books set in Carolingian Francia, The Cross and the Dragon and The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, and is working on Queen of the Darkest Hour. For more about Kim and her fiction, visit kimrendfeld.com or her blog, Outtakes. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

2 comments:

  1. Kim, I so love this blog. In our house St Joseph's statue had prominence. If any thing was lost, it was St Joseph's job to find it, fix it, find a solution. He rarely let us down. But... I grew up, left home bought a home and needed to sell it postehaste with 4 children under 5 ready to mess it up at any time.I needed the big guns.I put a Miraculous medal over the front and back door...it sold within weeks. Okay. Coincidence. But when my sister wanted her house sold, she used the same. House sold. Even my atheist sister in law requested the medals. (Successfully, I should add). But getting back to St Joseph....No one prays to the saints any more... more chance for the ones that do :). And I maybe foolish and yes, religious, but, more has come my way than just chance. And as a last word, there is a child named after St Joseph in at least three generations of our family. Thanks Kim for letting me have this time to give St Joe a cheer.

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  2. Thank you for this post! Nice to learn more of the legend / history behind the practice! For fun we buried St Joe when selling our house. The papers were singed in less than a week and mere hours before the housing bubble burst ( July 2006) Our buyer told us at closing her lender said she would not have gotten the mortgage a day later....Thank you St Joseph!!!! You can bet he's in a place of honor here, in the new house.

    That statue took me back. We had that one in the 1960's when I was a child. St Joe often seemed to be over looked. SoI'm glad he has such a robust tradition for himself! Thanks again

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