Month: November 2017

Horse Party

horse partyStep back in time, just after World War I,  and imagine city streets filled with horse carriages and carts instead of motor vehicles. Miss Laura Blackburne (3808 Walnut; later 5038 Larchwood), an early donor to St. Francis de Sales Church, was also a board member of  the Women’s SPCA (today’s Women’s Humane Society) and worked on the Dispensary Committee for a unique holiday event as reported in The Philadelphia Public Ledger, December 24, 1918:

There was great rejoicing in “animal circles” at the announcement that Santa Claus today would visit the stables and kennels of the poor horses, dogs, and cats, as well as the homes of real folks. 

            Through the agency of the Women’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Santa gave Christmas dinners to more than 200 animals. The horses that have so nobly done double duty during the war were given especial notice. 

            There was a sort of thin, soupy mixture for the first course, mixed feed for the entree and carrots and big red apples for dessert. Dog biscuits were Rover’s share and there was catnip in prettily tied bunches for the kitties. 

            Ned, a staunch old dray horse who for the last year has been supporting a family of eleven, had the time of his long life. Ned’s master is sick and has been almost blind for many months. Ned’s steady work in hauling has furnished the only livelihood for the master, mistress and the nine children of the family. 

            Dan is another of the heroes who were decorated “inside and out” for his splendid services. He has been earning the living for an eighty year old man and his family. 

            Girl Scouts distributed the Christmas dinners for the animals from the Lighthouse at Second Street and Lehigh avenue, from the dispensary at 315 South Chadwick Street (near Rittenhouse), and from Lowry Home (for homeless dogs and cats), Eighty-Sixth and Eastwick Streets. Horses in the police van and traffic squad stables were remembered by the women too. The Christmas compliments were in the form of bright red apples. 

            Members of the dispensary committee of the women’s society investigate their “horse families” just as conscientiously and carefully as social workers investigate the homes of they city’s poor people. Wherever the people are poor and deserving of help, and their horse or animals are hungry, the society gives its aid…

            The lighthearted article sounds reassuringly normal, considering that the Great Influenza Pandemic, which killed an estimated 12,191 people in Philadelphia alone, had finally slowed its brutal onslaught just the previous month! All schools and churches in the city — including ours — were closed down for three weeks, from October 6 to October 26, 1918, in an apparently successful effort to help stem the contagion.

 

The Dragon of Saint Philip

_MG_2572 (2)Tales of long ago saints have, in modern times, been stripped of their more fantastical elements, often leaving us with confusing vague stories of good people with few distinguishing details. Such has been the fate of Saint Philip, whose cross emblem is on the St. Joseph side of our St. Francis de Sales Church. It’s time to reclaim him!

We know very little about Philip from the Bible. He is said to have been the third Apostle to be called by Jesus. He is quoted in the story of the Loaves and the Fishes from St. John’s Gospel, and he is thought to have been present with the other Apostles at Pentecost. His emblem in our church is the cross “by which he is said to have overthrown the statues of the idols in the countries which he converted.

A lost story of Saint Philip, handed down through the medieval mythical Golden Legends, described how he overcame a dragon in the ancient spa city of Hierapolis, in what is now Turkey. He was said to have been captured there and taken to a pagan (Roman) temple to make a forced sacrifice, when “anon under the idol issued out a right great dragon...” which killed several people who were preparing the sacrificial fire. Then “the dragon corrupted the people with his breath that they all were sick, and St. Philip said: Believe ye me and break this idol and set in his place the cross of Jesus Christ and after, worship ye it, and they that be here dead shall revive, and all the sick people shall be made whole.

It seemed implausible, until 2013, when archaeologist Francesco D’Andria uncovered an ancient Roman shrine called the “Gates of Hell” buried under the ruins of Hierapolis. A natural gas pocket, running beneath the shrine, produces a hallucinogenic and deadly vapor which issues from the doorway. The air is poisonous even today: as it was being excavated, birds and small animals were killed when they strayed  too close to the entrance. It is easy to see how this mysterious phenomenon could be interpreted as a giant beast hidden underground, breathing out  foul and murderous breath. Sealing its shrine and constructing a cross above it would likely have closed off the vent and stopped the poison – a miracle for its time.

Suddenly, the story of Philip gains colour and interest! And a piece of our Catholic culture is restored with a new appreciation of history.