House of worship in deserted village had to be deconsecrated after it and its cemetery were repeatedly damaged by spirit-seekers and vandals
By Lynn Moore, Postmedia NewsDecember 7, 2010
Deep in the woods of Quebec's Lower Laurentians, tucked into one corner of a gravel road that goes nowhere in particular, in a place so remote as to be without power lines, there is a church.
Rather, there was a church. St. John's Shrewsbury, built in 1858 and the last remaining building of a village that vanished decades ago, was an Anglican Church until Saturday.
Shortly before noon that day in what is now part of the municipality of Gore, St. John's was deconsecrated in a ceremony that also involved the sprinkling of holy water in its cemetery to cleanse the grounds of all traces of "the craft of Satan" or human malice.
Witches, waves of misguided ghost-hunters and self-proclaimed spiritualists, as well as vandals, have swarmed the church in recent years.
"This is the only church that I know of that has been brought to its knees by people . . . pursuing some sort of desire for supernatural experiences," Archdeacon Edward Simonton said during the deconsecration service. "We could not protect this building."
Area residents -- angered over the destruction of a holy and historic site -- say they have lost count of the acts of vandalism on church property and the number of graveyard seances they have interrupted.
"There has been a couple of hundred cases of vandalism in the last two years," Simonton concluded.
The interior of the church has been virtually gutted. Artifacts, sacred items and pump organs were stolen along with the church bell and its replacement. The graveyard has been desecrated, with more than a dozen headstones damaged, destroyed or stolen.
"Who does this sort of thing? I blame the Internet. The Internet is the chief culprit," area resident Stephen Brown said.
Various websites and blogs, in English and French, have listed the Shrewsbury church as a place inhabited by ghosts. Latenight trips to raise the spirits are planned in chat rooms, Brown and others say.
Jim Kyle, the elected people's warden, was shocked at what he has read about his church.
"One guy talked about a mass suicide in the church. That never happened," he said.
Simonton said he believes the genesis of the problem could be an Internet reference to Shrewsbury as a "ghost town." Wikipedia, for example, offers a list of ghost towns in Quebec that includes Shrewsbury.
As that ghost-town reference was repeated, it morphed into a ghost haunt, and Shrewsbury became a site to see ghosts and its only remaining building, a target.
Over a year ago, when they realized what was going on, Stephen Brown and his brothers Christopher and Donald began patrolling the area at night and occasionally staking out the graveyard.
The brothers described the incursions as "uncontrollable" and the unwanted visitors as ranging in age from 14 to 40-something, male and female, mostly French-speaking.
More than once, it has come "very close to blows," the men said. The police have been called on occasion and people have been arrested, but there have been no prosecutions.
The deconsecrated church is being taken over by the Municipality of Gore, which expects to renovate the church and intends to use it as a community centre.
The cemetery, restored by prayer and a special blessing, remains.
Before taking aspergillum in hand to sprinkle the defiled cemetery with holy water while reciting Psalm 118, Simonton spoke of his compassion for those who had done the nasty deeds.
"You can get rid of religion but you cannot get rid of the deeper questions human beings have to wrestle with [such as], 'Is there life after death?' "
The ghost hunters, with nothing "bigger than themselves" in their lives, were trying to relieve their day-to-day drudgery, he suggested.
He told the two dozen people who participated in both ceremonies that they shouldn't worry about the graveyard.
"Our beloved deals' souls are not in those graves ... they are in the hands of God," he said.
But at least one spirit was summoned. The late Kathleen Morrison, a local historian, was people's warden of St. John's before Kyle. It was because of her that antique dealer Jacques Beaudry "fell in love" with a place he never saw.
"She would tell me the story of Shrewsbury 100 years ago. She recalled the village for me . . . the general store here, the houses there," he said, pointing off into the woods.
Beaudry, a Roman Catholic, was soon taking regular drives past the church, to check on it. On Saturday, he was already thinking of Morrison when Simonton concluded the service by reading from a booklet she wrote on the history of the church in 1983.
It was Kyle, the last people's warden of St. John's, who thought Morrison should have the last word.
"We give thanks for the early pioneers who founded St. John's and for those who have laboured through the years to keep it alive," Morrison had written. "What does the future hold for Shrewsbury? We cannot tell but there is a spirit here that will live on by the Grace of God."