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Individual event ticket – $30 per person
German Language Class
Saturday Feb 15
10:30 a.m. until 1:00 p.m.
For more information call Roland Hoffman
St. Roch Cemetery
Click HERE for a great article on St. Roch Cemetery based on service learning at Tulane.
Established in 1875, St. Roch Cemetery lies just north of the Faubourg Marigny in the St. Roch neighborhood, an area that in the nineteenth century was part of the so-called Third District, extending downriver from Esplanade Avenue.  
A number of clues scattered throughout St. Roch Cemetery reveal a German immigrant dimension. Walking through the cemetery, one will immediately notice a large number of German names on the graves. Traditional, easily recognizable examples like Schmidt, Klein, Schneider, and Koch can be found as well as more unusual names like Ueberschlag, Ahsenmacher, and Elzensohn. The high proportion of German names on the tombs demonstrates that the nineteenth-century community that first established and used this cemetery was heavily, though by no means exclusively, of German descent. 
Not only do many of the graves list German names, but many of the tombstones are engraved with additional words and expressions in German such as Familie, Geb[oren], Gest[orben], Hier ruht, Hier ruht in Frieden*, and *im Alter von. The individual’s final resting place is inscribed in his or her mother tongue or family language, as shown in the images of the Grunder, Schmidt, Henke, Eder, and Schellenberger tombs to the right.
The use of German is significant because it reveals important information about the linguistic habits of the community: at least at some point, the German language must have been actively spoken, read, and understood in this part of New Orleans.
Further evidence of a German influence in the former Third District can be found in the name of one of the cemetery’s two main walkways. The walkway leading from the front gate of the cemetery to St. Roch Chapel is St. Roch Avenue Walk. The second one, running perpendicular to the first, is named after St. Boniface.
While St. Boniface may be unfamiliar to many Americans, he is well known throughout Western Europe as the celebrated patron saint of Germany. St. Boniface lived in the eighth century and is credited with having Christianized much of what is modern-day Germany and Austria. He was martyred by the pagan Frisians of the north, and immediately became one of the most revered and beloved saints in the German speaking world.  In St. Roch Cemetery, his name also appears on a vault established by the St. Bonifacius Verein, the benevolent association of St. Boniface Church. The latter-along with St. Boniface School-was founded at Galvez and Laharpe Streets in 1869 for those Germans who had moved beyond the original German enclave in the Third District. 
Based on the individual names, inscriptions, and naming practices found throughout St. Roch, we can conclude that many among the residents of this part of New Orleans were of ethnic German origin and could, to varying degrees, understand, speak, and read German. Moreover, in addition to their language, the Third District Germans also transplanted their religious and cultural traditions: the Catholics among them, for instance, brought the German patron Saint with them to this Southern port city on the Mississippi River. 
The founder of St. Roch Cemetery was Father Peter Leonhard Thevis, pastor at Holy Trinity Church located closer to the Mississippi River and in the heart of the Third District, at St. Ferdinand and Dauphine Streets.  According to a famous New Orleans legend, Father Thevis prayed to St. Roch during the deadly yellow fever outbreak of 1868 and vowed to build a chapel to him if the Holy Trinity congregation was spared. No one died, and Father Thevis indeed built the chapel a few years later in the cemetery he had established for the church. 
Upon his death 25 years later, Father Thevis was buried in the center of the Chapel, beneath the marble floor in front of the altar and the statue of St. Roch. The inscription on his tombstone is engraved in Gothic rather than Roman script; Gothic script, prevalent in Western Europe from the 1100s to the 1600s, was used much longer in Germany, throughout the 19th and until the 20th century. 
The first line of the inscription_Hier ruhet im Herrn_translates to “Here rests in the Lord.” This phrase, frequently found on headstones in St. Roch Cemetery, is the standardized inscription of nineteenth-century German burial culture.  Usually, this phrase is followed by the deceased’s name. Father Thevis’ inscription, however, has an additional line before his name is added: seiner Auferstehung harrend. Auferstehung means “resurrection.” The present participle that follows harrend means “waiting,” with connotations of “waiting patiently and longingly.” Father Thevis is patiently waiting for Judgment Day, the day his body is reunited with his soul and he will be called upwards to heaven. The first two lines of the inscription, therefore, implicitly characterize Thevis as a man who distinguished himself from convention by his singular, profound devotion.
Besides recording that Father Thevis was pastor at the Heilige Dreifaltigkeitskirche, or Holy Trinity Church, the inscription also refers to him as the Gründer (the founder) of Campo Santo, which is the official name he and his congregation gave to their cemetery. The rest of the text notes Thevis’ places of birth and death. He was born in 1837 in a small village called Langbroich, just outside the city of Aachen. Aachen, Charlemagne’s residential city, lies in Northrhine-Westphalia, about 40 miles west of Cologne and the Rhine river. From there, Father Thevis migrated to New Orleans, where he, according to the tombstone, died on August 21, 1893, a respected pastor who had cared deeply and selflessly for his congregation and had founded this cemetery for them in their new home, the Third District of New Orleans.
Who is the Saint to whom Father Thevis prayed for protection from yellow fever and to whom he dedicated the chapel in which he himself was later buried? According to Catholic legend, Saint Roch was born in Montpellier, France, around 1295. His father was the governor of the city, and he was of a noble family. Born with a mark in the form of a red cross on his chest, Roch was very devout and lived an ascetic life from an early age. After his parents died when he was twenty, he gave all of his worldly possessions to the poor and, in 1317, set out on a pilgrimage to Rome. He came to Italy during a plague epidemic. It was said that his touch, prayers, and signing of the cross on those who were ill healed them. He ministered to the sick in the hospitals of several cities. On his way back from Rome, he himself succumbed to the plague at Piacenza. He was cast out of town and retreated to the forest, where he would have died, had it not been for the dog of a nobleman which brought him bread and licked his wounds, healing him. After Roch recovered, he continued healing those afflicted by the plague.
Based on this legend and due to recurrent outbreaks of plague from the 14th to the early 18th century, St. Roch became a very popular plague saint all over Europe, including countries north of the Alps such as Germany.  Like a large number of European cities, especially those located on the major international and intra-European trade routes,  Cologne, Düsseldorf, Münster, Koblenz, Mainz, Frankfurt, Mannheim, Bonn, Bingen, and other cities along the Rhine and its tributaries were repeatedly hit hard by the plague.  As a result, they are particularly rich in votive practices, traditions of veneration of plague saints such as St. Roch and St. Sebastian, and local plague lore.  A famous example of such lore is the legend of Richmodis von Aducht, a noblewoman who was the subject of a miraculous resurrection after dying from the plague in Cologne in the 14th century. During her burial, a gravedigger attempted to remove a ring from her finger when, to his surprise, the woman suddenly rose from her coffin and returned home. Mengis, her husband, could not believe that it was truly her, proclaiming it was as likely she be alive as a horse climbing the stairs and looking out of the window. Soon after, the man’s horses enacted his prophetic words, and Mengis accepted that his wife had returned to him. 
Another well-known example of this regional cultural tradition inspired by the plague, and an instance of a votive offering to St. Roch, comes from Bingen, situated about 100 miles upriver from Cologne in Rhineland-Palatinate. When a devastating plague epidemic spread along the Rhine in 1665 and 1666, raged in Cologne, and finally reached Bingen, the city appealed to St. Roch and vowed to build a chapel to him; the plague abated soon after, and the city fulfilled its vow to the saint by building a chapel on a nearby hill overlooking the Rhine. 
Many of the cities along the Rhine made similar vows and built similar chapels, churches, or monuments-as did in fact countless cities and towns throughout Europe during those centuries.  Bingen’s St. Roch Chapel and annual Festival became more widely known in Germany after the most famous German writer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who had been taking the waters at nearby Wiesbaden, visited Bingen in August of 1814, witnessed the festivities in honor of St. Roch, and later published a detailed narrative of his experience.  Bingen held-and continues to hold-annual St. Roch Festivals and created St. Roch memorabilia such as postcards that could be sent all over Germany by pilgrims and visitors.
As we have seen with St. Boniface, when German immigrants came to New Orleans in the first half of the nineteenth century, they naturally brought their religious cultures with them, including this particular popular memory and tradition of veneration: the plague in the Rhineland and other parts of Germany, and St. Roch the plague saint. At that time, New Orleans was periodically afflicted by deadly yellow fever epidemics over the summer months, and tens of thousands of people died from the disease,  including Father Thevis’ immediate predecessor as pastor of Holy Trinity Church, Father Ignatius Scheck.  People thought yellow fever was caused by foul odors emanating from the swamps. Doctors at that time did not yet know that it is caused by a virus and transmitted by mosquitoes, and since the doctors could not help them, many sought refuge in their religion. Father Thevis, who came to New Orleans from the Rhineland, was intimately familiar with plague saints such as St. Roch, and he would have remembered the regional legends about the plague and the votive chapels and churches of Cologne, Düsseldorf, Mainz, Bingen, and other cities along the Rhine. When he vowed to build a chapel to St. Roch during the yellow fever epidemic of 1868, he transplanted the veneration or cult of St. Roch from the Rhineland to subtropical New Orleans, adapting it to the specific circumstances he and his congregation found there.
A final telling feature with a German cultural dimension in St. Roch Cemetery is its official name, mentioned in the inscription on Father Thevis’ tomb: Campo Santo. When Thevis designed the burial ground and chose a name, he was deliberate in picking this one, derived from the Latin “campus sanctus,” meaning “holy field.” It is a common name for Catholic cemeteries around the world, referencing the original Campo Santo cemetery just south of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. The original Campo Santo was considered “holy”-and therefore attractive as a burial site-because it is located on the ground where, under Nero, the early Christian martyrs died and also because it lies close to where the apostle St. Peter was buried, under St. Peter’s Basilica.  In the 15th century, a confraternity of German clerics, which had become an integrating force active among the German community then living in Rome, made this cemetery a German national institution. It then became a popular burial ground for German clergy members as well as, eventually, non-clerical Germans who died in Rome.  Today it is a popular meeting place and heritage site for Germans in the Eternal City, and visitors are expected to ask the Swiss Guard for admittance in German.  So Father Thevis, pastor at Holy Trinity Church in the Third District of New Orleans in the late 1860s, drew on deep Catholic, but also German-diasporic meanings when he modeled the cemetery for his congregation after the Campo Santo dei Teutonici e dei Fiamminghi in Rome.  The name, in a sense, connected the Germans of New Orleans to another community of Germans abroad, the Germans of Rome.
New Orleans remains one of the most prominent contributions to world culture that the United States has to offer, having accumulated elements from across the New World and Old World alike. Most people who visit the city recognize the Gallic motifs, the Creole presence, and the Southern charm; natives and long-time inhabitants will probably talk about the lesser known Spanish architecture and the African influences and sites. But few among the native and long-time New Orleanians and even fewer among the visitors are aware of any specific traces or sites of German culture in the city, except maybe Leidenheimer po-boy bread or the old Dixie Brewery building on Tulane Avenue. As St. Roch Cemetery and the St. Roch Chapel can show, however, many more traces and sites are there-in plain sight, and dense with information, indicating why this part of New Orleans was once nicknamed “Little Saxony.” 
Based on what we have found in St. Roch Cemetery, we can agree with Edouard Glissant’s view of New Orleans as a port city where a multiplicity of Caribbean and Atlantic cultural traditions flow together. “Its history,” Glissant observed of New Orleans, “travels with the seas.”  One particular individual and cultural journey among countless such journeys-not all of them voluntary-led from the middle and lower Rhine region downriver to the German, Dutch, or French ports, then across the Atlantic, into the Gulf of Mexico, up the Mississippi River to the port of New Orleans, and eventually to the Third District of that city, which became, around the middle of the 19th century, the Little Saxony of the Southern United States. This is why New Orleans today has a St. Roch Cemetery, a St. Roch Chapel, and a St. Roch neighborhood, named after the shrine.  This is why the tombstone sunk into the floor of St. Roch Chapel bears these words, in Gothic type and archaic, nineteenth-century German: 
- This article is based on a service learning course taught in conjunction with a German language course at Tulane University, Spring 2013. This article was originally delivered as a talk in St. Roch Cemetery No. 1 on April 27, 2013 to Rachel Becker’s German class at Benjamin Franklin High School.
- Richard Campanella, Geographies of New Orleans: Urban Fabrics Before the Storm. Lafayette, LA: Center for Louisiana Studies, 2006, p. 254.
- Campanella describes three major areas of German concentration in New Orleans: the city of Lafayette between (today’s) Howard Ave. and Felicity St.; Carrollton; and the Third District. Richard Campanella, Geographies of New Orleans: Urban Fabrics Before the Storm. Lafayette, LA: Center for Louisiana Studies, 2006, pp. 247-262. See also Ellen Merrill, Germans of Louisiana. Gretna: Pelican, 2005, pp. 81-86. According to Campanella, p. 254, the Third District was heavily German between the 1830s and the second half of the 19th century, but also included a mixed Creole, African-American, Irish, and Italian population.
- Francis Mershman, “St. Boniface.” The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. Web. 30 April 2013. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02656a.htm.
- Ellen Merrill, Germans of Louisiana. Gretna: Pelican, 2005, pp. 283, 211, 233.
- “Germans in New Orleans were a religious people,” writes Richard Campanella, Geographies of New Orleans: Urban Fabrics Before the Storm. Lafayette, LA: Center for Louisiana Studies, 2006, p. 253. According to Campanella’s count, the Germans founded nine Catholic congregations, four Jewish ones, and 33 Protestant ones in the city between 1825 and 1961.
- Holy Trinity Catholic Church was established in 1847. Campanella, op. cit. p. 255, describes Holy Trinity as one of the two social anchors of the German residential cluster in the Third District, the second one being St. Paul Lutheran Church a few blocks away.
- Leonard V. Huber, Peggy McDowell, Mary Louis Christovich. New Orleans Architecture, Vol. 3: The Cemeteries. Ed. Mary Louis Christovich. Gretna, La. : Pelican Pub. Co., 1974. p. 49.
- “Blackletter.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation 1 April 2013. Web. 20 April 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackletter.
- Christine Behrens, “Grabinschriften als Informationsquellen.” Ohlsdorf: Zeitschrift für Trauerkultur 108, 1, March 2010. Web. 1 February 2013. http://www.fof-ohlsdorf.de/titel/2010/108s09_grabinschriften
- See Peter Bruder, Die Verehrung des heiligen Rochus zu Bingen am Rhein: Nebst einer ausführlichen Geschichte der St. Rochuskapelle und Wallfahrt. Mainz: Franz Kirchheim, 1881. Web. Google eBook, 2012. 1 February 2013. http://books.google.com, p. 3.
- According to Harold Avery, Venice “suffered from plague more than any other city” (p.112) because it controlled the trade route to Asia. Vienna was another crucial distribution center for the plague because it lay at the intersection of the north-south route from Venice as well as the east-west route on the Danube. See Harold Avery, “Plague Churches, Monuments and Memorials.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine 59.2 (February 1966): 110-116. Web. 1 February 2013. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1900794/.
- The outbreaks of the plague that are decisive in the present context are those that took place across Germany, Austria, and Switzerland from 1663 to 1668 and from 1675 to 1683. In those outbreaks, “[t]he worst years for western Germany were 1665 and 1666, when Cologne (Köln), Düsseldorf, Münster, Bonn, Koblenz, Mannheim, Mainz, Frankfurt, and other towns in the Rhine River region were sites of major epidemics.” See Encyclopedia of Plague and Pestilence: From Ancient Times to the Present. Revised Edition. Ed. George Childs Kohn. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2001, p. 123.
- See Avery, “Plague Churches, Monuments and Memorials.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine 59.2 (February 1966): 110-111. Web. 1 February 2013. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1900794/.
- Adolf Lesimple, Erinnerungen an den Rhein in Geschichte und Sage. 2nd Ed. Limburg a./L.: Verlag der Marien-Stiftung, 1890. Web. Google eBook, 2011. 2 March 2013. http://books.google.com, pp. 15-17.
- See Bruder, op. cit., pp. 15ff. See also Josef Krasenbrink, “Geschichte der Binger Rochuswallfahrt und der Rochuskapelle.” Katholische Basilikapfarrei St. Martin, Bingen. Web. 1 February 2013. http://www.bistummainz.de/pfarreien/dekanat-bingen/pfarr_bingen/rochuswallfahrt/geschichte.html, and “Rochusverehrung in Deutschland,” Katholische Basilikapfarrei St. Martin, Bingen. Web. 1 February 2013. http://www.bistummainz.de/pfarreien/dekanat-bingen/pfarr_bingen/rochuswallfahrt/rochusverehrung.html
- For a list of St. Roch Chapels in the Rhineland, see “Rochusverehrung in Deutschland.” Katholische Basilikapfarrei St. Martin, Bingen. Web. 1 February 2013. http://www.bistummainz.de/pfarreien/dekanat-bingen/pfarr_bingen/rochuswallfahrt/rochusverehrung.html. The major shrine to St. Roch is the church adjoining the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, with St. Roch’s relics and Tintoretto’s paintings of the saint. The Doge of Venice would come to this church every year on St. Roch’s birthday, August 16, and would pray to the saint to avert the plague from Venice. In Vienna, St. Charles Church owes its existence to a vow, made by Emperor Charles VI in 1713, to build a church if the plague ceased. See Harold Avery, pp. 114.
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Sankt-Rochus-Fest zu Bingen.” Originally published 1817. Project Gutenberg Spiegel Online. Web. 1 February 2013. http://gutenberg.spiegel.de/buch/3665/1
- In 1853, for instance, the German newspapers of the city recorded 8000 deaths directly from yellow fever for the period between May 28 and October 8, against a background of a total population of 150.000, approximately one third of which had fled the city before the disease became epidemic. See Patricia Herminghouse, “The German Secrets of New Orleans,” German Studies Review 27.1 (February 2004): 1-16, 2-3.
- Father Scheck died from yellow fever on June 24, 1868 and Father Thevis, who had been his assistant, succeeded him as pastor. An earlier pastor of Holy Trinity, Father Matthias Schifferer, had also died from yellow fever, on September 25, 1866. See “Holy Trinity Catholic Church,” www.neworleanschurches.com 2002-2012. 6 April 2013. http://www.neworleanschurches.com/holytrinity/holytrin.htm
- Anton de Waal, “Campo Santo de Tedeschi,” The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 3 Ed. Charles G. Herbermann et. al. New York: Encyclopedia Press, 1908. Web. Google eBooks, 2012. 6 April 2013. http://books.google.com, pp. 224-225.
- See “Campo Santo Teutonico,” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation 14. March 2013. Web. 26 March 2013. http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campo_Santo_Teutonico.
- “Campo Santo Teutonico,” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation 14. March 2013. Web. 26 March 2013. http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campo_Santo_Teutonico.
- The official Italian name refers to the historic German and Dutch language areas of Europe. “Teutonici” or “Tedeschi” refers to German-speaking Austrians, South Tyrolians, Swiss, Lichtensteiners, Luxembourgers, and Belgians. “Fiamminghi” refers to the Flemish and the Dutch. See ibid.
- Campanella, op.cit., pp. 255-256.
- Quoted in William Boelhower, Robert Thomas, and Rita Wetta Thomas, “New Orleans in the Atlantic World, I.” Atlantic Studies 5:2, 151-159; p. 152.
- See “St. Roch, New Orleans.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation 14 January 2012. Web. 1 February 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Roch,_New_Orleans
- While we have looked at the German presence at St. Roch Cemetery, which is historically central to it, it is important to note that Father Thevis’ tomb is surrounded, outside the chapel, by graves with inscriptions in English, French, Italian, Spanish, Czech, and Slovak as well as German.