There are quite a few superstitions in the world of real estate, but none seem to have captured the public consciousness like the legend of St. Joseph. According to conventional lore, burying a statue of the saint will cause your house to be most advantageously sold within a short period of time. While this has never been verified by an independent study, enough people believe (or are desperate enough to try anything) that some businesses have sprung up around the sale of statuettes and instructions on how to place them on the property.
There are a number of theories on the origins of this custom. Medieval nuns on quest for a convent were held to have buried a medal of St. Joseph while asking for intercession. Some people think that it dates to German carpenters who reputedly enhanced the foundations of the houses they built with a statue of St. Joseph and a prayer. There is a story about a Brother Andre of Montreal, who wanted to purchase property on Mount Royal for a chapel, but could not get the landowners to sell until he started planting St. Joseph medals on the land. However, none of these stories have any documentable origins.
St. Joseph is the patron saint of carpenters, the Catholic Church, the dying, fathers, pregnant women, social justice, wheelwrights, and workers. The carpentry part seems to have been extended to real estate in general, then specifically selling it. The first modern documented account of burying a statue in his purported likeness was in 1984. The 90s saw the practice become intensely popular, with a number of email letters and anecdotes making the rounds of email, message boards and websites.
So popular did this tradition become, that some businesses are making money selling little kits that feature a plastic St. Joseph, recommended prayers and instructions on how to bury him to achieve the saintliest position for holy home selling. There are a number of beliefs on how and where the statue should be buried, some involving specific instructions on where the statue is to be placed, where it should face and how deep it should be buried.
At best, the St. Joseph story can be seen as apocryphal, as there is no evidence that burying a cheap, plastic statuette is going to miraculously make one’s home sell. However, if one is a devout believer in saints’ ability to change lives and fortunes, it can’t really hurt to try.