Crucifixion painting is recovered
and restored to its place above the altar
2001. A priceless sentimental
treasure of Mount St. Maryís College and
Seminary in Emmitsburg has been restored
to a place of pious honor above the
seminary chapelís altar after gathering
dust in the archives for nearly a century.
recovery involves a story that spans
almost two centuries and an old painting
under which the Mountís founder, Bishop
John DuBois, celebrated Mass and whose
profoundly touching scene must often have
held the saintly gaze of his neighbor and
friend, Elizabeth Ann Seton.
striking 18th century oil painting of the
crucifixion languished for so long and how
it was discovered involved luck, intuition
and some quick-thinking historical
detective work on the part of an associate
professor of history at the college.
clicked when I saw it," said Father
Albert H. Ledoux, the faculty member who
is a 1987 graduate of the seminary.
cryptic observation that requires some
explanation. Father Ledoux referred
specifically to the superb 18th century
copy of the famous 17th century Flemish
artist, Franz Francken the Youngerís
depiction of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St.
Mary Magdalene and St. John standing in
sorrow at the feet of the crucified
letís start at the beginning,"
Father Ledoux advised. And this is his
story; this is the mystery he solved.
1991, and the seminary had undergone a
thorough interior renovation. The building
had been practically gutted, what with the
installation of new heating and electrical
systems, among other things. But when it
was all done, many of the walls,
especially those in the large classrooms,
appeared even barer than they had before.
So, Monsignor Kenneth Roeltgen, then the
seminary rector, dispatched a staff member
to the collegeís archives to find
"things to hang." One of the
"things" turned out to be the
crucifixion painting, darkened by the
ravages of time, but its poignant scene
just the thing for the lecture hall.
remained there, little noticed, until 1995
when Monsignor Roeltgen decided the
crucifix above the altar of St.
Bernardís, the seminary chapel, needing
restoring. He wanted something to fill the
blank space during its absence, and he
remembered the crucifixion painting in the
lecture hall. And so it was done.
Father Ledoux. He was spending the summer
at the Mount while working on his doctoral
dissertation at The Catholic University of
America. Entering the chapel for Mass one
morning he took a close look at the
painting above the altar. And that, he
said, is when "something
church history-buff student at the
seminary, Father Ledoux had spent many
hours in the college archives, sifting
through letters and other old documents.
Now was his chance to take on yet another
role, that of G.K. Chestertonís famous
fictional priest detective, Father Brown.
Could this painting, thought Father Ledoux,
be the one that might have hung over the
altar of the old Mountain Church built
then by Father DuBois in 1806, the church
used by Mount students until 1897 and
which burned down July 4, 1913, the victim
of an errant Roman candle firework?
priest returned to the familiar archives
and after a search of several hours
uncovered a letter he thought he might
have glanced at during his student days.
It was from Bishop DuBois, dated 1835, in
which the Mount founder reported that he
had received the "crucifixion scene
in the Mountain Church" as payment
for a debt.
Ledouxís continuing investigation in the
archives revealed that a Mathias
OíConway of Philadelphia had presented
the painting to Bishop DuBois as a
payment-in-kind for $244 in outstanding
fees for his son, Columbkill OíConway,
who was a student at the Mount from 1809
Bishop DuBois testified to having received
the painting, and there was no mention in
the college records of the OíConway debt
after 1814, Father Brown, that is to say,
Father Ledoux surmised that the seminary
must have been given the painting around
that date or at least before Bishop DuBois
left the Mount for New York in 1826.
this really the same crucifixion painting?
And had it, in fact, hung above the altar
of the Mountain Church, which is now the
site of the sky-soaring Pangborn
Campanile, the 80-foot bell tower
surmounted by a 25-foot tall golden statue
of the Blessed Virgin Mary?
another search through the archives
uncovered some photographs taken in the
late 1880s and early 1890s that revealed a
painting of the crucifixion above the old
Mountain Churchís high altar.
photos were old, but you could clearly see
Christ and Mary Magdalene, and there was
no doubt in my mind it was one and the
same painting." said Father Ledoux.
a such great story, isnít it?" said
Father Kevin Rhoades, the seminaryís
present rector, who had the painting
professionally cleaned before restoring it
in August to its more appropriate place
above the chapelís altar.
Bishop DuBois, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and
her Sisters of Charity and all the
Mountís priests for almost the first
century of the 192-year-old seminaryís
existence, the seminarians can now draw
prayerful inspiration from an old
painting. Itís not even an original.
Itís a copy. Itís not even worth a lot
of money. But itís precious beyond words
and something the seminary is not likely
to lose or neglect ever again.
other stories on Mt. St. Mary