Saint Expeditus

The "'ti bon Dié" at the side of the road

An object of worship found nowhere else in the world, Saint Expeditus is the patron saint of desperate causes, who can provide a rapid solution! Regardless of religion, customs and beliefs, he gathers together all Reunionese, around his little red altar...

When travelling on the roads or trails of Reunion ISland for the first time, people are intrigued by the host of little altars, painted red, which line the route : there are several hundred of them, distributed throughout the entire island. And as soon as the opportunity presents itself, it is impossible to resist the curiosity and refrain from getting a little closer to discover what is hiding inside these strange little houses, immortalised in the travel photos of every visitor to the island... The answer can be summed up in two words, known by every Reunionese native: Saint Expédit.

Nestled among the ex-votos, the flowers, candles and loose change, this saint, an object of worship (almost) found nowhere else in the world, is represented by a statue dressed as a Roman legionnaire, holding a cross in his right hand bearing the inscription hodie (today) and crushing a crow with his left foot, which utters the word cras (tomorrow). In his other hand, he holds the martyr's palm. The story of Saint Expeditus explains the symbolism: this Roman commander from Armenia who converted to Christianity is said to have been put to death in 303 for having refused to denounce his faith.

A true story

While the Catholic church questions the legitimacy of this minor saint, of whom there exists not a single relic, there exists nonetheless evidence of him to be found in literature.  In 1910, the German poet Christian Morgenstern wrote an amusing text recounting the story of nuns receiving a box of relics, on which the word "espedito" was inscribed: unaware of who had sent the package, they attributed the remains to a certain... Saint Expeditus! Reunionese historian Prosper Eve, a specialist in local history, identified the now popular poem as having given rise to this legend,  which anyone will be happy to recount to you if you ask them about the 'ti bon Dié" (the little god) at the side of the roads!
And how did the martyr come to place his sandaled feet on Reunionese soil? This was perhaps down to Fanny Fleurié, a Reunionese woman who was for a long period of time stuck in Marseille on account of the Spanish flu, at the end of the First World War, and is said to have prayed in a church in which there was an effigy of this very saint, who she promised she would devote herself to worship if she managed to return home. And so just three days later, a ship agreed to take her on board... The woman took advantage of another trip to the mainland to purchase a statue of Saint Expeditus and donated it to the church of Notre-Dame de la Délivrance, in Saint-Denis: this, the very first effigy of the saint, was blessed on 3 May 1931 and this is said to have been the start of the Reunionese cult. However, according to some historians, the cult is said to have started earlier still... Lastly, there was even a thesis, submitted by Philippe Reignier in 2001 at the University of Reunion Island, that was dedicated to the cult of Saint Expeditus: so in spite of his unclear origins, the saint has been written about extensively and has thus become an essential part of the cultural heritage of Reunion Island. Furthermore, to provide a completely thorough account, he is also celebrated in Brazil in the village of Santo Expedito, where the procession in his honour attracts a large number of parishioners!


On Reunion Island, Saint Expeditus transcends the beliefs of the individual: for success in examsthe return of a wayward husbandthe awarding of a permit or trials of life to be overcome, people turn to him if their cause seems desperate and when they want a solution... quickly! And, if we are to judge by the great number of notes of thanks dedicated to him, which adorn the increasing number of oratories, clearly it would seem that in return for this fervent, popular and unwavering faith, Saint Expeditus does indeed respond with goodwill and efficacy.