Wednesday, April 11, 2012

More Angels and Demons - St. Louis Style

The second church on our tour was St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, 15 Plaza Square, commonly known as St. John's Downtown. The church, which was built in 1847, was designed by architect Thomas Warring Walsh. At one time, during the 1860s, the church was designated the Cathedral Church of the St. Louis Archdiocese.

During the Civil War, an Irish priest names Father John Bannon, served as pastor of St. John's. Father Bannon was also a prominent chaplain for the Confederate forces as part of the 1st Missouri Brigade. Tragically, Irish immigrants fought against each other in Gettysburg and on other battlefields during the war. At the end of the conflict, clergy on the Confederate side could no longer serve as ministers, so Bannon returned to Ireland. Two flags, one Confederate and one Union, appear in the rear of the church, above the choir loft. Because of their remote location I was unable to get a photo of the flags.

The significance of the church in the Angels and Demons tour can be found in the east apse--a reproduction of Raphael's 1520 painting of The Transfiguration recounted in the Gospel of St. Matthew. The original painting is displayed in the Vatican Museum in Rome. The painting shows demons being exorcised from a young boy.


Scenes in the stained glass windows of St. John's Church depict events in the life of Christ recounted in the Gospel of St. John.

The final church on our Angels and Demons Tour, St. Francis Xavier (College) Church on the campus of St. Louis University, is notable for many reasons. One is because of its historical significance, beautiful architecture, and lovely interior, but also because of its connection to a famous exorcism.

In 1949-1950, it was in the rectory of St. Louis University and at the Alexian Brothers Hospital a few miles away, where the exorcism made famous by the William Peter Blatty novel THE EXORCIST actually took place. While the records had been ordered to be sealed by the Church for 50 years, the news of the exorcism leaked out in writing the book. However, significant details were changed in the novel, such as the sex of the child and the location of the exorcism.

In the actual exorcism, the possessed was a teenage boy named "Robbie" (not his actual name) whose family lived in the Washington, D.C. area. Robbie's family was non-Catholic but had a family member living in St. Louis, who contacted a priest from St. Louis University asking for help for the teenager.

During our tour, the docent revealed details about Robbie's exorcism. Robbie was brought to St. Louis and examined by medical professionals before the exorcism was performed -- by three Jesuit priests with assistance from two seminarians.

Listening to the true story, goosebumps formed on my arms as I sat in the church, lit only by dim lights and sunlight.  Even with a flash on my camera, the photo I took of the main altar (above) came out dark. I won't go into it here, but suffice it to say that many of the reported details of the possession were chilling, and which I won't repeat them. The church itself was the scene of an other-worldly event at the end of Robbie's exorcism. Walking out of the church into the sunlight that day was a welcome feeling.

Hope you enjoyed my recounting of the Angels and Demons tour. Although parts of the tour were frightening, it was interesting and memorable. I'll save the final, and less unsettling, portion for another time.

14 comments:

  1. Wow, you have me the shivers even this far away.I would never want to even pen an exorcism writing... And I did not know clergy were not allowed to preach after the Civil War. Was this only Catholic, all religions, do you know who ruled this? You got me to quizzing this morning!

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    1. Hi Claudia,
      The way the tour guide explained it, clergy who took the Confederate side weren't allowed to preach. I had not heard that before the tour either, and I didn't hear who dictated that to be a law.
      Hope this answer helps.
      donna

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  2. Oh, this is fascinating, Donna! I read THE EXORCIST when I was way too young to read such and I seriously think I was permanently traumatized. I think imagination takes us to much scarier places than a movie can--

    I love old churches and their history. So sad about the Irish immigrants during the Civil War. From what I've read, many stepped off the boat and were conscripted on the spot.

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    1. Hi Cathy,
      It was a scary book. I read a long time ago too.

      You are right. It is sad about immigrants being conscripted to fight in a war in their new country.

      Donna

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  3. Your tour and posts remind me: do you have an "angel" submission for Chicken Soup for the Soul?

    Thanks for the information. I feel like I am on the tour with you when you share the details.

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    1. Hi Sioux,
      You are welcome. Glad you enjoyed the tour.

      Chicken Soup needs to start paying you for all the marketing services you perform. You're a great cheerleader for them.

      Donna

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  4. Fascinating and scary stuff!

    Pat
    Critter Alley

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  5. Thanks for sharing, Donna. The photos are hauntingly beautiful, and the story is chilling.

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    1. Hi Lisa,
      You are welcome. I'm glad you enjoyed and hope they didn't creep you out too much.
      donna

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  6. I read The Exorcist when I was in high school. It scared the snot out of me. I refuse to watch the movie. In fact, I won't watch any devilish-demonish movies. I change the channel when commercials for them come on. A regular garden-variety slasher movie doesn't bother me at all. Nor do ghostly tales. But I draw the line at demons.

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  7. Interesting and informative, thanks again for the tour. You gave ME goosebumps.

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  8. Hi Val,
    The book scared me, too, and the movies are scary, but I can't watch slasher movies.

    Hi Linda,
    You are welcome. Sorry about the goosebumps.

    donna

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  9. What a beautiful place St. Louis is, I only know about it from the Judy Garland's song/movie Meet in St. Louis:)

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