The St. Joseph's Altar is an old tradition originating in Sicily. During a terrible famine, the people of Sicily pleaded to St. Joseph, their patron saint, for relief. St. Joseph answered their prayers, and the famine ended. In gratitude, they prepared an altar with foods they had harvested. After paying homage to St. Joseph, the Sicilians shared their good fortune with the less fortunate.
Breads, Cookies, & Olive Oil
The bread, traditional Italian cookies, and olive oil reflect the Italian origin of the St. Joseph’ Altar. The various shapes of the bread are symbols of St. Joseph, Jesus and the Blessed Mother.
These represent the “sawdust” of the carpenter, St. Joseph.
The whiteness of the flower represents Joseph’s virtue, holiness, innocence, and obedience to God: “he did as the angel commanded” (Mt 1:24; see also Mt 2:14,21,22). The white flower also represents his faithfulness to Mary, as well as his chastity and sexual purity because he respected her virginity and remained celibate throughout their marriage: “he had no relations with her” (Mt 1:25a).
The gospel indicates that Joseph was a carpenter: “Is he [Jesus] not the carpenter’s son?” (Mt 13:55). A carpenter’s square is an indispensable tool of the trade, and it is the tool most frequently used to represent St. Joseph.
The wine represents Christ first miracle, the changing of water into wine at the Wedding Feast at Cana.
The pine cones represent Jesus’ childhood as his toys would have been from nature due to the Holy Family’s poverty.
The candles signify the light of Christ.
The palms are a symbol of Jesus’ crucifixion.
The fava bean is the central food of the altar, as they are the crop that thrived and fed the starving Sicilians during the drought in which they sought St. Joseph’s intercession. They are considered a lucky charm. The custom is to carry a fava bean in your wallet or handbag, for prosperity.
Petitions to St. Joseph
You are invited to write a petition(s) on a piece of paper in seeking the intercession of St. Joseph.
The three tiers of the altar represent the Holy Trinity. The statue of St. Joseph rests on the top tier to signify his role as the head of the
Statues of Saints
The statutes of the saints are a reminder that we are called to follow in Christ’s footsteps. They also symbolize the communion of saints and serve as inspiration for the faithful in their pilgrimage with Jesus.
Pair of Turtle Doves
Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (Lk 2:22), and according to tradition, Joseph brought the pair of turtle doves that were to be offered in sacrifice (Lk 2:24). They represent the Holy Family’s material poverty.