Sellers without a prayer turn to burying St Joseph
CARI Luna is Jewish by heritage and Buddhist by religion. She meditates regularly. Yet when she and her husband put their Brooklyn, New York, house on the market this year and offers kept falling through, Ms Luna turned to an unlikely source for help: St Joseph.
Some choose to bury St Joseph upside down.
The Catholic saint has long been believed to help with home- related matters and, according to lore now spreading on the internet and among desperate home- sellers, burying St Joseph in the yard of a home for sale promises a prompt bid.
After Ms Luna and her husband held five open houses, even baking cookies for one of them, she ordered a St Joseph ‘‘ real estate kit’’ online and buried the 7cm white statue in her yard.
‘‘ I wasn’t sure if it would be disrespectful for me, a Jewish Buddhist, to co- opt this saint for my real- estate purposes,’’ says Ms Luna, a writer. ‘‘ Well, could it hurt?’’ she figured.
With the housing market at its worst in recent years, St Joseph is enjoying a flurry of attention. Some vendors of religious supplies say St Joseph statues are flying off the shelves as an increasing number of sceptics and nonCatholics look for some saintly intervention to help them sell their houses.
Some realtors, too, swear by the practice. Ardell DellaLoggia, a Seattle real estate agent, buried a statue beneath the For Sale sign on a property that she thought was overpriced. She didn’t tell the owner until after it had sold. ‘‘ He was an atheist,’’ she explains. ‘‘ But he thanked me.’’
Sales of existing homes fell 8 per cent in September to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.04 million units, the lowest level in nearly 10 years, according to the National Association of Realtors. Some Catholic clergy are uncomfortable with the St Joseph trend.
Statues of St Joseph sold online can be as tall as 30cm. One, made of coloured resin, portrays St Joseph cradling the baby Jesus, but most home sellers favour the smaller replicas — most of which are made in China and often show St Joseph as a carpenter.
Most statues come in a Home Sale Kit priced at about $ 5, including burial instructions and a prayer.
One site, Good Fortune Online, recently added another kit with a statue of St Jude — known as the patron saint of hopeless causes — ‘‘ to help those with a difficult property to sell’’, the site says.
Another site, Stjosephstatue. com, takes orders for Underground Real Estate Agent Kits.
Demand for the statues has been growing. Ron Weissman, who sells the statues at Good Fortune Online, says about six months ago he switched to online transactions because the increase in calls — from about two a week to 25 calls a day — was too much to handle.
Richard Weigang, owner of www. catholicstore. com , says he sells about 400 statues a month, double the amount he sold a year ago.
In Catholicism, St Joseph, a carpenter, is honoured as the husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus. Representing a humble family man, he is the patron saint of home, family and house- hunting, according to the Rev James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author of My Life With the Saints .
Popular belief holds that people who wish to enlist St Joseph’s help in selling a house should bury his replica upsidedown in the yard. ( Apartment dwellers are advised to put him in a potted plant.)
Methods of burying the statue vary. Instructions in one package give buyers several options, including burying it upside- down next to the For Sale sign, burying it a metre from the rear of the house and burying it next to the front door facing away from the home.
Phil Cates, owner of stjosephstatue.com, says: ‘‘ I’ve seen it buried in all types of places with all types of ceremonies.’’ The detailed burial instructions are largely intended to prevent people from forgetting where they put their St Joseph, he says. ( His kits advise burying it facing it away from the house to symbolise leaving.)
Theologians say there’s no official doctrine that calls for the statue’s interment. The practice may have arisen from medieval rites of land possession, in which conquerors claimed land by planting a cross or banner, says Jaime Lara, associate professor of Christian Art and Architecture at Yale Divinity School.
Lara also suggests that the tradition may have been mixed up at some point with folklore surrounding St Anthony. known as a matchmaker, who would often be held to ransom, upside- down, until he found a husband for someone’s daughter.
Some clergy aren’t sure how St Joseph would feel about his replica ending up on its head in the dirt, and suggest displaying it somewhere in the house instead.
‘‘ I think it’s much more respectful than burying the poor guy,’’ says Monsignor Andrew Connell, the archdiocesan director of the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith in Boston.
Some retailers, such as Weigang, owner of www. catholicstore. com , also encourage buyers to put the statues in the house.
‘‘ We don’t advocate burying,’’ he says. ‘‘ Some of those statues are quite beautiful.’’
Catholic leaders also say faith and devotion are necessary in addition to burying a statue, otherwise the practice amounts to little more than superstition or magic.
But they are also enjoying the saint’s newfound popularity. ‘‘ If they have a good result and they think it was St Joseph, it might inspire them to practise more,’’ says Connell.
Once someone’s home sells, the custom holds, the statue should be dug up and put in a place of honour in the new home.
That’s what Ms Luna did after she and her husband sold their house shortly after burying St Joseph. She put the statue in her office in their new home in Portland, Oregon.