Dear Straight Dope: Could you help a poor Presbyterian/once a Catholic and Lutheran??? My kids are trying to sell their house, have bought another one, and everyone says they MUST bury a statue of Saint Joseph in their back yard — and he must be buried upside down!!! — in order to sell it quickly!! Now, I figure this is pure superstition, and they agree, but — just in case!! We are all Presbyterians, now, so the saints aren’t really ruling — but wondered if you had ever heard this particular story. Millicent Burnstein
SDStaff Songbird replies:
The Saints have never ruled, even when Archie Manning was their quarterback. But St. Joseph has dominated as the Divine Real Estate Mover for several hundred years.
The United States Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C., traces the tradition of burying St. Joseph back hundreds of years to St. Theresa of Avila (1515-1582), who prayed to St. Joseph (the patron saint of the family and household needs) for more land for Christian converts and encouraged her Discalced Carmelite nuns to bury St. Joseph medals in the ground as a symbol of their devotion.
Today, folks bury statues of St. Joseph instead of medals (some say the reason he is depicted as bald in so many statues is that he’s been buried upside-down too many times). He can be buried in the front yard, upside down, facing away from the house or in the back yard, right side up, facing the house. Some cultures say once the house is sold, you must dig him up and take him with you. Others insist you leave him in the ground at your old house and buy a new one. Everyone agrees you need to give him a place of honor at your new home.
Though St. Joseph Home Sale Kits can be purchased (in prices ranging from $9.95 to almost $30.00), the most important factor is said to be faith. If you don’t truly believe in divine intervention, they say, don’t expect positive results.
If you want to do-it-yourself, here’s how:
1. Get a statue of St. Joseph. The size of the statue has nothing to do with how much money you’re going to get for your house, thank goodness.
2. Bury him on your property (see instructions, above).
3. Ask him to help you sell your home. The following is from an Internet kit, and is definitely not the kind of prayer I would suggest be used: “Oh, St. Joseph, guardian of household needs, we know you don’t like to be upside down in the ground, but the sooner escrow closes, the sooner we will dig you up and put you in a place of honor in our new home. Please bring us an acceptable offer (or any offer!) and help sustain our faith in the real estate market.”
4. Thank him after your home sells.
5. Share your experience of how he helped you with others.
Does doing all this guarantee that St. Joseph will sell your house? Of course not. It’s a silly superstition. But 2 million St. Joseph statues are sold nationally each year with enough testimonials from satistified home sellers to make believers out of many. I’ll confess that as I write this, I’m staring out my window at the lovely new statue of St. Joseph and his family we placed in our back yard. When I buried him at our old home (which I sold myself), we had our buyer within a week.
SDStaff Songbird, Straight Dope Science Advisory Board
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