Sell­ers with­out a prayer turn to bury­ing St Joseph

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Landmarks - Sara Schae­fer Munoz

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 stjoseph­, 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.

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