Monday, April 9, 2012

Angels and Demons - St. Louis Style

Last month my sister Kathleen and I took a motorcoach tour sponsored by the City of St. Peters, Missouri.

Over the past few years I've gone on several of these around-town tours and have found them educational, entertaining and fun. Tour guide Linda Koenig led the "Angels and Demons" Tour, which took us to several churches, one cemetery, a convent, and a haunted mansion.

After boarding the bus, our tour guide gave us an explanation about the origin of words angel and demon. Angel comes from the Latin word Angelus, meaning messenger of God. Demon comes from the Greek word Daimon, meaning evil spirit.

The first church on our tour was the Shrine of St. Joseph, 1220 North 11th Street in St. Louis (pictured above). Jesuit priests founded the parish in 1843 in an area called Kerry Patch because of the large number of Irish immigrants who settled in St. Louis after the potato famine in Ireland. The land for St. Joseph's was donated by Mrs. Ann Biddle, daughter of one of St. Louis's most generous benefactors, John Mullanphy. Mrs. Biddle, whose husband Thomas was killed in a duel, occupied her time with Catholic charities and other philanthropic endeavors.

An outbreat of cholera plagued the citizens of St. Louis in the 1860s, and parish priests conducted as many as 20 burials a day from St. Joseph's.

Members of the parish prayed their families would be spared more deaths and asked St. Joseph to intercede on their behalf. Several family members signed a vow that if their prayers and petitions were answered they would erect a monument to honor St. Joseph. According to the parish history, not one family member of those who signed the pledge was stricken with cholera after that.

In thanksgiving, the families erected the St. Joseph's Altar of Answered Prayers (above), which serves as the main altar of the church. The Shrine of St. Joseph is also the site of a miracle healing of Julius Strecker, which involved a blessing with a relic of Peter Claver. The miraculous healing was confirmed by the Vatican.

Other features of the church are the slots where doors once stood on the side of the pews. The doors were shut to help keep the faithful warm in the winter. The pews were also divided lengthwise, which meant double pew rental fees.

Among the notable features of the church are the symbols of life and death depicted on the ceiling. The skull and crossed bones (in the dark) represent death, while the butterfly above it (in the light) represents rebirth and resurrection.

In the 1980s the church was abandoned and in a deplorable state. A dedicated group of faithful people donated money to save it from ruin. Before they could begin repairing the insides, more than five tons of bird droppings had to be removed from the floors. Now the church is the site of Sunday Masses, special events, and a popular location for wedding ceremonies. The church also has a thrift shop, which serves residents who live nearby. The day we visited we were given bread and fruit left over from their St. Joseph's Day celebration, which was celebrated the day before (on March 19).

In my next post I'll share some of what I learned about another famous St. Louis church, which played a part in the Civil War.

12 comments:

  1. Interesting! And beautiful to see...I am surprised if the church was in such bad shape it was saved. Why the abandonment other than money...where did the people go? And Kerry Patch is such a cute name although I know it was not always a good thing, the Irish huddling together. No matter how many times I read about The Hunger and the prejudice against the Irish (or any group) I get riled all over again. Donna, did you ever read How the Irish Saved Civilization? So good...whoops, I am chatting like you are on the other side of this tea cup! Sorry. Have a good day.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Claudia,
      Thanks. People migrated from the city to the county in the 1960s and 70s, and by the 1980s there weren't a lot of families to support the parish.
      I read that book a long time ago--was the author's last name Cahill?
      I know what you mean about chatting while enjoying a cup of tea. My cup sits on the table next to my lap top.
      Hope you enjoy this lovely day.
      Donna

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  2. The architecture, the embellishments---old churches like this are treasures of our city. Thanks for sharing the historical tidbits. (No mimosas. huh?)

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    Replies
    1. Hi Sioux,
      You are so right. Can you imagine if this church hadn't been saved in the 1980s?
      And, no mimosas on this trip, but I did see some tulips and daffodils.
      Donna

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  3. Beautiful church and interesting back-story. It's wonderful that it was saved from ruin for future generations to enjoy.

    Pat
    Critter Alley

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    Replies
    1. You are right, Pat. The long aisle makes a perfect setting for weddings.
      Donna

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  4. The back story is so interesting that I can't help but wonder if you're brewing a story now?

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    Replies
    1. Hi Clara,
      I'm saving my notes in case a story idea strikes.
      Donna

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  5. Donna, Thank you for taking us along on this informative tour. I so enjoy these.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Linda,
      You are welcome. They're even more fun in person.
      donna

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  6. This sounds like a wonderful tour, Donna. Your photos are very impressive.

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    1. Hi Patricia,
      Thanks. it was a wonderful tour. My photos don't do justice to the lovely churches.
      Donna

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