Keep An Eye On Joseph

If you’ve placed a nativity scene in your yard this month, you might want to keep an eye on Joseph. Why? Because, second only to Baby Jesus, Joseph is the figure most likely to be stolen from a crèche.

Which was news to me until a recent conversation with a friend who’s in the real estate business. I was lamenting the fact that son James and daughter-in-law Natalie have had their house on the market for several months and still haven’t had an offer.

“Have they tried burying a statue of Joseph in the front yard?” my friend asked.

“Joseph who?” I replied.

“St. Joseph. Jesus’ earthly father,” she said. “Lots of folks believe that if you bury a statue of Joseph in the front yard of a house that’s for sale, the right buyer will come along very soon.”

I was incredulous. How could I have lived for almost six decades and never heard of such a thing? Granted, I’m not Catholic and therefore not well acquainted what one is supposed to do with saintly icons. But still. Bury Joseph in the front yard? I had to find out more.

Thanks to the internet, I learned that Joseph is the patron saint of home and family and–not surprisingly–also of carpenters. Way back in the 1500s, European nuns led by Teresa of Avila buried a medal with St. Joseph’s likeness on it on property they hoped to acquire for a convent. It worked. As the years passed, St. Joseph medals were replaced with statues and the focus shifted from buying to selling, but the tradition of associating Joseph with successful real estate transactions endured.

The number of websites offering “St. Joseph Home Sellers Kits” is mind-boggling. Kits generally include a small plastic statue, a prayer card and instructions for burial, all for less than ten dollars.

Most instructions suggest burying Joseph about twelve inches deep, upside down (“feet pointed toward heaven”) and facing the house. As to where in the yard to put him, most kits recommend that the spot be near the FOR SALE sign so as to not to have to dig up the whole yard searching for him after the house sells.

And it’s important that, in gratitude for St. Joseph’s role in selling the house, the statue be cleaned up and be placed in a prominent place in the seller’s new home.

Not surprisingly, demand for St. Joseph kits is brisker in depressed real estate markets. But even when times are good, the kits sell well. And not just to Catholic home owners and realtors. One online retailer estimates that more than half its sales are to non-Catholics.

So what do real estate professionals think about the idea of burying St. Joseph to sell a house? Some view it as a holy thing, but only if done with sincere faith. Others take a “can’t hurt, might help” attitude. Still others, including a highly successful realtor (who shall remain nameless) right here in Cookeville, think it’s nothing but superstition. “If a house is priced right, it will sell,” he told me, “with or without Joseph buried in the yard.”

Maybe so. But I still think that anyone with a manger scene on display ought to consider padlocking the Joseph statue to a strong tree. You can’t be too careful when dealing with folks desperate to sell a house.

(December 14, 2014)


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