Community / News / May 20, 2010

Galesburg church holds relic

Some say that Galesburg is protected from tornados by the intercessory power of a nine or ten-year-old boy who died over 1,500 years ago. Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Galesburg is the home of Saint Crescent’s body (Cresces in Latin). Legend holds that since he came to the town on August 27, 1887, Galesburg has been protected from tornados and that none have hit Galesburg in that time.

Crescent lived in Rome during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian, sometime during the years A.D. 284-305. While his cause of death is unknown, he was found in the early Christian Catacomb of Saint Cyriacus in Rome.

Crescent was killed during Diocletian’s persecutions of the Christians and as such, is considered to be a martyr by the Roman Catholic Church. Also found with his body in the catacomb was an urn containing his dried blood, which had been gathered by the Christians following his death. Near the urn and body was a marble plaque reading CRESCES.

The story behind how Saint Crescent came to reside at Corpus Christi in Galesburg is in many ways more incredible than his death. The relic was removed from the Catacomb of Saint Cyriacus in 1838 and was given to the Holy See (the Vatican) who then gave it to Antonio Rosmini, the founder of the Institute of Charity, and told him to bestow them as he saw fit for “respect and veneration.”

Rosmini first took the relic to Stresa, Italy where they were kept in his chapel under the altar. The relic remained there until 1887 when they were given to Father Joseph Costa, the founder of Corpus Christi Church in Galesburg.

Costa faced many difficulties in getting the relic of Saint Crescent to Galesburg, all of which contributed to the stature of the saint. Costa was originally scheduled to sail from Italy to the United States on the boat Alesia, however delays in getting the box containing the relic through customs prevented him from boarding the boat. As it turns out, the Alesia sank on its way from Italy to the United States, and thus the delay saved the relic from loss.

Moreover, all of the publications provided by Corpus Christi state that the relic was enclosed in a case of thin glass and that “it traveled through the railroads of Italy, France, England and from New York to Galesburg without the least injury,” quite a feat in 1887.

According to the church, it was foretold to Costa that the relic would reach Galesburg unharmed. “He remarked to his Superior that it would be very difficult to bring it safely to America. The answer he received was ‘Saint Crescent will take care of himself and you too’. So it was.”

The fact that the relic of a saint resides at Corpus Christi is highly unusual. According to the Corpus Christi’s history, “There are less than ten Catholic Churches in the United States with a saint’s body and Corpus Christi is the only Church in the Peoria Diocese with a saint buried in it.”

Crescent is currently displayed in a glass-fronted altar on the north side of the church. The bones are housed in wax. The case itself is labeled in Latin, “Corpus S. Crescentis Pueri” or “The Body of the boy Saint Crescent.”

Since its arrival in Galesburg, a legend that Galesburg is protected from tornados by the relic has developed. Nancy Wong, the parish secretary said of the legend, “That’s folklore, but a lot of people in town believe he protects us. One time my son was at Lombard [a local middle school] and there were tornado sirens and a kid in the hall said, ‘We don’t have to worry; there’s a saint over there who protects us.’ And maybe he does look after us. The church has never said, ‘He does this.’”

Wong did say that when they say the novena they ask the saint to intercede on behalf of their children. The novena reads, “O Almighty God, grant we beseech Thee, that we who commemorate the translation of Thy Holy Martyr, St. Crescent, May by his intercession, obtain a greater love for Thy Holy Name, through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.”

Knox College professor and advisor to Newman Club (the Catholic students’ organization) Don Blaheta had this to say about Saint Crescent, “That we have the body of a saint is cool because to have the full body of a saint outside of Europe is kind of rare.”

Speaking about whether or not Crescent protects the town from tornados, Blaheta said, “It’s a wonderful story. I have noticed though that tornado-like behavior inside of Galesburg is frequently classified as something else.”

Ben Reeves


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  • Deb Quilty

    The Protestant counterpart to the legend of St. Crescent, which was told to me by one of my Galesburg teachers, was that the city was founded by George Washington Gale (1789-1861) as an outpost to train missionaries to send out west, and thus was protected by God for that purpose. Incidentally, G. W. Gale was also the minister of the revivalist Charles Finney (1792-1875) before he went on to become the Billy Graham of his generation. I found several links that tell the story of St. Crescent, however, I cannot find anything on the protestant version; all I have is my memory of what the teacher told the class years ago. So if a tornado hits Galesburg in the future, I guess it might be because the city has fallen from its original purpose, and is no longer under divine protection?



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