Tag: Hospitals and Medicine

The Poisoned Chalice

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Snake on cup — unhygienic?

Perhaps not!

The 1940 parish anniversary book reported that the snake-and-cup emblem of Saint John the Apostle (by the 47th Street door) came from an ancient legend: “according to the tradition handed down by Saint Isidore, the idolatrous enemies of the Saint having poisoned the wine which he used for the holy sacrifice of the Mass, hoped thus to kill him. But the Saint frustrated their design, for on his blessing the wine a serpent came forth to warn him.”

The story first appeared in the Apocrypha — a collection of manuscripts not considered reliable enough to be included in the Bible. In the Sixth century, St. Isidore included the texts in an ambitious encyclopedia of all world knowledge. His information was then folded into the 13th century Golden Legend collection of saints lore, and spread from there.

Versions of the story differ: the wine was sometimes Communion wine; more usually, it was a beverage given to John at the Temple of Artemis or in the Marketplace. But the truth might actually be related to the roots of modern medical science.

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In Greek mythology, Asclepius was the god of medicine and his daughter, Hygieia, was the goddess of health and hygiene. Hygieia tended to the snakes at her father’s temple, which were made immortal by his magical potions. Her snake-on-a-cup emblem, known as the “Bowl of Hygieia,” has become an international symbol of pharmacy.

Snake magic was a distraction that obscured real medical knowledge. Ephesus (in Turkey), where St. John visited, was not far from Pergamum – site of an important temple to Asclepius  and early medical center (where celebrated physician Galen would establish the foundations of modern medicine half a century later). So John’s snake chalice could have been a “Bowl of Hygieia” containing medicine. Was he healed of an illness? In any case, legend suggests that acceptance of science strengthened, rather than damaging his religious faith. An important idea.

The Catholic Encyclopedia suggests a (snake-free) chalice is a logical emblem for Saint John for an entirely different reason: “Perhaps the most natural explanation is to be found in the words of Christ to John and James: ‘My chalice indeed you shall drink…’” This brings us to the central image above the altar in our church, with Saint John on the left, gazing up at the crucified Jesus, and, abstractly, the “Bread of Life and Cup of Salvation.”

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BONUS: The Tale of St. John’s bedbugs from the Apocrypha:

bedbug…And having so said, and bidden farewell to them, and left much money with the brethren for distribution, he went forth unto Ephesus…

Now on the first day we arrived at a deserted inn, and when we were at a loss for a bed for John, we saw a droll matter.

There was one bedstead lying somewhere there without coverings, on which we spread the cloaks which we were wearing, and we told him to lie down upon it and rest, while the rest of us all slept upon the floor.

But John, when he lay down, was troubled by the bugs, and as they continued to become yet more troublesome to him, when it was about midnight, in the hearing of us all, he said to them: I say unto you, O bugs, behave yourselves, one and all, and leave your abode for this night and remain quiet in one place, and keep your distance from the servants of God.

And as we laughed, and went on talking for some time, John went to sleep; and we, talking low, gave him no disturbance (or, thanks to him we were not disturbed).

But when the day was now dawning I arose first, and with me Verus and Andronicus, and we saw, in the doorway of the house which we had taken, a great number of bugs standing, and while we wondered at the great sight of them, and all the brethren were roused up because of them, John continued sleeping.

And when he awoke we told him what we had seen. And he sat up on the bed and looked at the bugs and said: Since ye have behaved yourselves in heeding my rebuke, come unto your place.

And when he had said this, and had risen from the bed, the bugs ran from the door, hastened to the bed, climbed its legs, and disappeared into the joints.

And John said again: This creature listened to the voice of a man, and stayed by itself and was quiet and did not trespass; but we who hear the voice and commandments of God disobey and are light-minded: and for how long?

After these things we came to Ephesus…

Adapted from  “The Apocryphal New Testament”
M.R. James-Translation and Notes
Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924

 

A Bell Named Adolph

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Our church bells don’t ring out as often as they did in times past, but they’re still an important part of our church. Did you know that the largest bell weighs in at 2,500 pounds, which makes it bigger than the Liberty Bell (which is a mere 2,080 pounds, and cracked)!

According to the 1940 Parish Jubilee volume, the eleven bells up in the tower were “named after the following saints: Adolph, Michael, Elizabeth, Anthony, Cecilia, Theresa, Edmond, John, Thomas, Maurice, and Gervase.”

It’s an odd list. Among other things, one might wonder: why Adolph?

When the bells were consecrated in 1916, that was still a fairly common name. Several Saints are named Adolph: Saint Adolph of Osnabruck lived in Germany in the 1100s and was known as the “Almoner of the Poor;” there was also a 9th century Spanish martyr named Adolph; and Saint Adolph Ludigo-Mkasa, who was martyred in Uganda in the 1800s.

The name could be there for another reason, as well. The bells were bequeathed to the church by Mrs. Elizabeth Lippe, in honor of her late husband, William. A little research reveals that William’s Dad emigrated from Germany. His name was Dr. med. Adolph Graf zur Lippe Biesterfeld Weissenfeld, shortened to Dr. Adolph Lippe, and he was an important figure in the history of homeopathic medicine, holding the chair of “Materia Medica” at the Homeopathic College of Philadelphia (the origins of Hahnemann University Hospital) from 1863-1868.

The name could also be intended to honour Adolfo de Nesti, the Italian sculptor who created many of the statues in our church. (It may be additionally significant that Monsignor Michael J. Crane’s sister was a nun named Sister Mary Gervase; and his Assistant was the formerly-Anglican Reverend Maurice Cowl).

So, in the story of one church bell, we have represented Germany; Spain; Italy; England; Uganda; care for the poor; immigration; higher education; alternative medicine; Catholic history; Philadelphia landmarks; American history; fine art; and church music – an emblem of the rich tapestry of our Parish heritage!

 

 

Where Babies Came From: Misericordia Hospital

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Families used to be large and the University of Pennsylvania Hospital was small and far away. So where were all those local babies born?

In 1913, as the neighbourhood grew, Archbishop Prendergast recognized a need and prevailed on the Sisters of Mercy to open a Catholic hospital in West Philadelphia at 54th and Cedar. Reverend Mother (Patricia Waldron) commissioned architect Edwin F. Durang to design an elegant six-story building “flanked by four diagonal wings, the whole forming a St. Andrew’s cross. ” Nursing sisters began training at other Mercy hospitals and also locally at the College of Pharmacy (today’s University of the Sciences) and the Polyclinic Hospital (formerly 20th and South). Our parish was one of several to help with fundraisers.

Misericordia  Hospital was finished and dedicated on June 9, 1918, by Bishop McCort, assisted by our then pastor, Monsignor Crane. The Philadelphia Inquirer announced that “preceding the dedicatory exercises, will be a big parade of the various West Philadelphia parishes,” and “Red Cross units from West Philadelphia parishes will be in line, attired in uniform.”  Later, a “fully equipped motor ambulance” would be presented by the Ladies Auxiliary of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish American Fraternal organization.

Local parishes continued their support through the early years: some of the attractions at a 1921 Lawn Fete included baby clothes and a baby beauty contest; a lamp and lampshade booth; ice cream; a doll table; and a performance by our St. Francis de Sales Boys’ Military Band.

In the beginning, the hospital was prepared “to take care of sick and wounded soldiers and sailors of the United States and nurse them back to health.” The First World War was just  ending as the hospital opened, but the great Influenza epidemic of 1918 was about to begin.

And then there were the babies. Generations of them. Father Hand and his twin brother were both born at Misericordia. Jeannie Jordan and Beth Ellerby were also born there, and Jeannie notes that her father used to feel that after the births of his seven children, he’d paid enough to have a personal stake in the place! Many other local families likely felt the same.

Today, families are smaller, but Mercy Philadelphia Hospital, as it is now known, still serves the region: its “commitment to West Philadelphia is as strong as ever and is an expression of our core values which are rooted in our history, define our present, and direct our future.”

Insulin

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        November is the month for lavish Thanksgiving feasting. It’s also Diabetes Awareness Month. Design? Coincidence? Irony? And what does this have to do with our parish?

          Diabetes – named by the ancient Greeks in Biblical times — is a metabolic disorder in which the body fails to create insulin to properly process glucose, or blood sugar. It is a terrible – and increasingly prevalent — disease worldwide. Though it’s been around for centuries, it was a death sentence for many until recent times.

          The breakthrough came in 1920, when  Canadian Dr. Frederick Banting demonstrated that insulin extracted from a dog pancreas could control blood glucose levels. The first test of insulin on human patients began with a 14-year-old diabetic boy at the Toronto General Hospital in January 1922, and other trials continued that year. Not all of the test subjects were children – fortunately for our parish..

          Bishop Michael Crane, the Pastor who built our church in the early 1900s, had long suffered from diabetes and his condition was worrisome. The Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Research Center (PAHRC) recently uncovered several letters from Cardinal Dougherty to the Archbishop of Toronto, begging him to see what could be done to get insulin for his Assistant Bishop. In late 1922, Bishop Crane was accepted into Banting’s programme as one of the “guinea pigs” for the early testing of insulin on humans.

          On November 18, 1922, Bishop Crane wrote to Cardinal Dougherty from the Toronto General Hospital, detailing his treatment. He noted that only small amounts of insulin could yet be created, so “they have only thirteen patients in the diabetic clinic…They give you a certain amount of food, some of which contains sugar to see what percentage goes into the blood. I got my first record today…The percentage of sugar in the urine was less than 2 percent. In August I had 6 percent. This I consider very encouraging…” (A curious subject for a letter to a Cardinal!).

          The following year, in 1923, Dr. Frederick Banting and Professor John MacLeod received the Nobel Prize in Physiology for their discovery and refinement of insulin.

          Bishop Crane returned to our parish after his successful treatment and resumed his many duties. Curiously, our parish chronicles contain no mention of his absence! He died of pneumonia during a flu epidemic just a few years later,  on December 26, 1928, at age 65.