24 January 2015

Altar relic of Christ Church, Chattanooga

This is about the altar relic of Christ Church (William Clendenin Robertson Memorial) in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and that parishes feast day(s).

In the center of the mensa (top surface) of the high altar, there is a small stone cross inscribed with the Latin phrase “EX COEM CALLISTI”.  An afternoon search through the historical records in the archives turned up what it is and where it came from.

The stone is a relic from the Catacomb of St. Callistus, Pope (218-223) and martyr, given by Fr. Jerome Harris, a former communicant admitted as a postulant of the Diocese of Tennessee on St. Bartholomew’s Day (24 August) in 1915.  He served as associate rector and then rector at St. Ignatius in New York City for decades.

Callistus himself is not buried there, but in the Catacomb of St. Calepodius.  He did, however, build the catacomb named for him while he was a deacon for Pope Zephyrinus.  A slave then a convict before his conversion, he was elected Bishop of Rome almost immediately after Zephyrinus' death in 218.

Callistus was the first Bishop of Rome to face an antipope, the better known to history Hippolytus.  Among the complaints of the latter were that Callistus had the temerity to readmit to Holy Communion those guilty of fornication, adultery, and murder after they had completed their penance, those who had renounced their faith in fear of torture or death, and repentant heretics.

According to the most reliable account, St. Callistus was killed during a riot in Rome and is considered a martyr, the first leader of the church in Rome martyred since St. Peter.  His feast day is 14 October.

Fr. Jerome Harris

Fr. Harris, who gave the parish the stone presently embedded in the altar (the one from the Catacomb of St. Callistus), was originally a communicant.  He was admitted by Bishop Thomas Gailor as a postulant on St. Bartholomew’s Day (24 August) in 1915.  His priestly career took him to the Diocese of New York, where he was associate rector then rector of St. Ignatius in NYC, and later vicar of St. John’s in Springfield Gardens of Queens, NY.  He frequently visited home, and was one of the celebrants at the Requiem Mass for Mother Mary Gabriel of the Sisters of the Tabernacle in 1930.

Christ Church's altar stone

Upon the consecration of Christ Church in 1944, Fr. Harley Bullock, a priest who began as a postulant from the parish (ordained in 1931), gave a rather large altar stone with a depressed cavity in the center top for relics.  Engraved in the center was a cross, as well as a cross at each of the four corners.  In the end, Fr. Fox and the vestry decided that Bullock’s stone was too heavy, and placed it in “the Sacristy”.  Shortly after I began attending Christ Church, Fr, Jon had me place it on the table where the oblations sit before the offertory.

Fr. Bullock was Locum Tenens (basically, priest-in-residence) of Christ Church 1941-1942 during the time when Fr. Thorne Sparkman, rector of St. Paul’s, was our priest-in-charge under the diocese’s Chattanooga Plan.  After that, he was vicar at Grace Memorial Church, where he was at the time of the consecration of Christ Church in March 1944 and when he gave the altar stone that July

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