Church

Legend of the Dogwood Tree, Spring in the Hollow

Like so many things in Appalachia, legends surround almost everything and many are held as truths still today. One of my favorite folktales told over and over in West Virginia is the Legend of the Dogwood Tree.  (This is a wonderful copy of the poem that tells the story)

Dogwood blooms in Buckhannon, WV

Dogwood blooms in Buckhannon, WV

As the story was told to me over two decades ago… Jesus was nailed to a large wooden cross made from Dogwood timber and as he died he blessed the tree because of it sorrow for its master’s death. The blessing held that the tree would never again grow straight or tall enough to be used for a  crucifixion cross again.  The flowers would be a symbol of his life, death and resurrection, to everyone who looked on them. With the white blooms standing for Christ and the red tinged edges being the symbol of his blood. The petals of the flower would shape a cross with two long arms and two short and the center in gold is the crown of thorns that he worn on that day.The notched edges of each petal are a reminder of the nails the held him on the cross and each spring we are reminded of his being raised from the dead when the Dogwood blooms again.

So is the story true? No, not really. The evidence pretty well shows that the story is just a tall tale. Do the people of the mountains and hollows still look forward to seeing the Dogwoods bloom every spring… and do they remember this story, Of course!

Dogwood berries ready for winter

Dogwood berries ready for winter in our back yard

The legend moved me so much when we lived on the farm, that while my neighbor was clearing the fence line between our two properties, I stopped my car along the road where he worked. I asked  the older man “please not cut down the young dogwood tree”. I shared the legend  with him while he looked on in amazement and put down his saw. For the following 10 years that same farmer never cut down the dogwood tree that stands in our shared fence row. At that moment I understood for the first time the power of the circuit ministers of the 1800’s in Appalachia. They must have had a lot of time to think when they rode these hills and hollows. They needed ways of reaching people so that they could understand the ideas of crucifixion, resurrection, sacrifice, forgiveness and love. So they used nature as a teaching tool(just like most folktales) to keep a story alive in a way that everyone could understand.

This tail is still heard in churches and at picnics here West Virginia. In spring as the forest slowly returns to life, it is the dogwoods blooms that remind me to tell this story again to another generation. So that my children will one day will share the story that holds many in these mountain hollows together.

Dogwood tree from Wikimedia commons

Dogwood tree from Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Categories: Appalachian Mountains, Buckhannon West Virginia, Church, Country life, Folk tails, spring | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Lost Soul of Loveberry Ridge Church. ( St Bernard Catholic Church, Lewis Co. WV)

The wood sided church sits on a hill on a one lane road, miles from the nearest town. The tree-lined road is quite and family homes speckle the trip up to the 1910 church. The well cared for church and cemetery were once the center of catholic life in the Lewis County, West Virginia. With many of the parishioners being immigrants from Ireland who brought with them their Catholic faith and traditions. These include the sad tradition of not allowing the bodies of the damned  buried inside church cemeteries. The story of John Kennedy and his unusual burial is the reason so many have thought over the years that this church and cemetery are haunted.

Back Side of St. Bernard Church Lewis County West Virginia

Back Side of St. Bernard Church Lewis County West Virginia

Construction on the single room church finished and services began in 1910. Yet, many of the graves in the cemetery are from the late 1800’s, the graves are remnants of earlier church yards.This structure is actually the third version of the church.The first being recorded back to a log Catholic Church that was active in the 1850’s. All of the  churches have  looked down over Loveberry Ridge as a beacon on the hill to those looking for a place to worship.

Many churches and cemeteries in the mountain state are on the tops of hills or mountains no matter what the denomination.West Virginia people held the belief that you were “closer to God” when you worshiped/ spent eternity/ on a mountain top. The other more practical reason to have a cemetery on a hill-top is flooding. West Virginia is prone to flash flooding and has a wet climate making bottom land swampy and full of bogs if not well-drained. So in the 1800’s a wise choice was to place the wooden coffins in higher locations where they would not float to the top of the ground during a flood or bob up to the surface if a fresh water spring started under the cemetery.

St Bernard and Rectory 1938

St Bernard and Rectory 1938 sourced from www.orlandostonesoup.blogspot.com.

If you look closely at the above photo and the photos below you will see a tombstone that is not in line with the others in the church cemetery. Up against the fence, alone, is the stone marking the grave site of John Kennedy. The stone is so close to the fence that an adult can not pass between it and the fence. On the ground in front of the headstone is his foot stone with just the J.K. marking. This is a strange placement for a foot stone during Victorian times, it would have been places several feet below the head of the dead. It is this grave that started the stories of the haunting at the Church.

Cemetery and Church of St Bernard, showing headstone of John Kennedy

Cemetery and Church of St Bernard, showing headstone of John Kennedy

Headstone of john Kennedy through iron fence

Headstone of john Kennedy through iron fence

HD photo of inscription of Tombstone of John Kennedy St Bernard church, Weston, West Virginia

HD photo of inscription of Tombstone of John Kennedy St Bernard church, Weston, West Virginia

Footstone of John Kennedy at St. Bernard Church Weston, WV

Foot stone of John Kennedy at St. Bernard Church Weston, WV

As was the custom of the 1800’s Catholic Church, any person who committed a mortal sin was unable to have a Funeral Mass or burial in the church cemetery. John Kennedy committed suicide at the young age of 19 making it impossible for his remains to stay in St Bernard’s cemetery. Johns other family members are buried in the cemetery and were people of wealth and power making it possible for John to have the large marker with in the fence of St Bernard’s but not his body. The remains are in the small bank along the road outside the fence. Leaving John to forever struggling with the fact that his bones are outside the sacred ground of the church and without the holy blessing of the priest. Some say that John roams the road and parking lot. That he is always looking for a way back into the good graces of the church and family.

First hand sightings have said that the front and back gates of the church will open and close on their own even though both gates into the property have latches. That a black shadow figure moves around the parking area and up and down the road to the church. That at certain times of the year that the church windows glow at night as if by candle light. As if some one is trying to look out of the church into the cemetery.

Top gate at back of church at St Bernard, Weston, WV

Top gate at back of church at St Bernard, Weston, WV

Back view of front gate at St. Bernard church, Weston, wv

Back view of front gate at St. Bernard church, Weston, WV

It is interesting to note that the remains of the Rectory are still visible across the road where Father Thomas A Quirk over saw the building of this church and lived most of his life. The rectorie’s well, cellar and stone path are still visible to anyone who would want to walk up the steep bank to see them. The property is also protected with a huge wooden cross that stands on the front of the bank where the main house and offices would have stood. This maybe why the ghost is only seen in the road…

Cellar of rectory of St Bernard church, Weston, WV

Cellar of rectory of St Bernard church, Weston, WV

Well cover at the site of rectory of St Bernard church

Well cover at the site of rectory of St Bernard church

Wooden Cross at the location of the rectory of St Bernard church

Wooden Cross at the location of the rectory of St Bernard Church

It is also possible that the strange happenings at (inside and out) the church could be caused by the ongoing conflict between the longtime resident Father Thomas Quirk and the young man John Kennedy. Father Quirk passed in 1937 after serving his parish for over 39 nine years passing at the age of 92. His resting place in the cemetery  has a large white sculpture of Calvary with a monolithic gray granite stone slab where his remains rest only feet from the stone marker for John Kennedy.

Monument to Father Thomas A Quirk at St Bernard church

Monument to Father Thomas A Quirk at St Bernard Church

Monsignor Thomas Aquinas Quirk, dead, 15 September 1937, St. Bernard's Catholic Church. Photo: Arch Ellis

Monsignor Thomas Aquinas Quirk, dead, 15 September
1937, St. Bernard’s Catholic Church.
Photo: Arch Ellis. sourced from http://www.orlandostonesoup.blogspot.com

Locals believe that Monsignor Quirk is the spirit still protecting the church and its Revival Gothic interior. The Monsignor’s ghost will not allow anyone who enters the church to remove anything that belongs to his church. The story goes that nothing from hymnals to bibles can be removed from the church by anyone who is not approved by the watchful ghost. Many stories state that if a person attempts to remove the altar bible from the church the book gains weight as the uninvited guest  progresses down the isle of the church. Finally the book becomes to heavy to carry and drops to the floor where it is impossible to moved.In the last few years the care takers of the church have also added the watchful eyes of security cameras to prevent unwanted intruders from entering the church. The Church is officially closed now days, no services are regularly held, but the church remains part of Catholic life in Lewis County. Some summers the church is open when they choose to have home-coming events and weddings at the remote location.

I did not need to see the inside of the church this day. All I needed was to see the headstone of John Kennedy and say a little prayer for him. I hope that his eternal struggle is over and that one day he would find some kind of peace in the cemetery way up at Loveberry Ridge.

Photo enhancement of front gate at St Bernard Church

Photo enhancement of front gate at St Bernard Church by Jolynn Powers

 

 

Categories: Cemetaries, Church, ghost stories, Halloween, historic locations, nostalgic, rural life, traveling, West Virginia, Weston | Tags: , , , , , , | 16 Comments

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