September 14, 2010

Witness to the Witnesses

James and I are home from the celebration of the life and ministry of the Martyrs of Memphis. The observance began with an evening concert of early music celebrating the Blessed Virgin Mary, at St. Mary’s Cathedral, performed by a quartet Voce dell’Anima: voice, organ, viola da gamba and cornetto. Beautiful singing and playing!

St. Mary’s School and the adjoining Church of the Holy Communion observed the Martyrs and we toured the facility — a very impressive institution and going great guns. We’ve enjoyed a catfish fry up lunch at the Women’s Exchange.

James and I’ve managed to squeeze in a trip to Graceland (a shrine of an entirely different sort!)

After evensong and dinner at St. John’s Church (which is adorned with spectacular murals from the early 50s) I did a presentation on icons and iconography and lead a group in a workshop on creating our own icons with crayons — cont√© and Crayola!

The following day I preached in the Sisters' Chapel commemorating Constance & Companions, after which we went to Elmwood Cemetery, and enjoyed a box lunch and a fascinating talk by Patricia McFarland — highlighting some of the less well known figures in the story of the 1878 yellow fever outbreak. She also gave me a copy of Charles Turner’s The Celebrant — a novel on the life of Louis Schuyler — which I look forward to reading.

We then walked in a light rain to pray at their grave(s) — the sisters are buried head to head in a pinwheel formation, and Frs Parsons and Schuyler share a grave in another area of the cemetery. We also attended Evensong at the Rev. Bindy Snyder's parish, All Saints.

On Sunday morning I had the honor of celebrating the Eucharist at the Cathedral, and enjoyed the vibrant music program — the place was alive with the spirit. It was also a great privilege to celebrate with the "Memphis Chalice" — the chalice used by the sisters during their time in Memphis, now carefully and lovingly preserved as a memento of their service. Prior to the celebration Sister Mary Grace CSM and I did an adult forum on religious life — an effective tag-team, if I say so myself!

I’m very happy we were able to gather the four sisters with James and myself to pose with the Martyrs of Memphis icon on the Cathedral’s north wall. James and I stood in for Charles and Louis, and the sisters (left to right: Miriam, Elizabeth Grace, Mary Martha, and Mary Grace) represented their predecessors in the Community of Saint Mary.

On the last day we managed to visit the National Civil Rights Museum (at the site of the Lorraine Hotel where Dr. King was assassinated) and enjoyed a lovely dinner with the sisters and brothers of the Memphis Emmaus Chapter of Rivendell, another Christian Community bearing witness to God’s love and the Spirit’s movement.

All in all a very rich experience.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


June Butler said...

Your time in Memphis sounds lovely, Tobias. Wonderful pictures, too. What an honor to celebrate the Eucharist using the "Memphis Chalice".

No doubt James is listening to Elvis.

Marshall Scott said...

Tobias, not quite 30 years ago I was the Associate at St. John's Church in Memphis. I hope someone was able to tell you the history of the frescoes - for they are in fact dry plaster frescoes. They are, as I recall, the largest collection, both in number and in square feet, of the works of Jan de Rosen. When I was there, some of the folks were still living who had been present at the time - including the primary donor.

Take a look at that large red fresco of Christ triumphant, and think about it: for three years I got to celebrate under that!

Lionel Deimel said...

Tobias, thanks for this post. I was good to be connected to the events of 1878 in a more personal way.

You inspired me to write a short piece on my own blog, mainly to give others links to more information about the Martyrs of Memphis. That post can be found at

James said...

This was a very moving post, Tobias. And my heart leaped with joy to see an ad orientum altar being used.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks all. It was a wonderful time, but I returned to much work piled up... and the ever attractive world of Blog!

James, one of the warnings I rec'd when I was asked to celebrate on Sunday at the Cathedral was that the altar was turned "away" -- but I told those who were concerned that that was what I was accustomed to! For me, the main worry is how tall the altars are! I prefer to be facing the same way as the congregation, but sometimes large eastward altars are huge and I fear bumping my elbows...