Note: This story is from my book Highway History And Back Road Mystery.
In St. Augustine Church, located in the tiny southern Indiana community of Leopold, is displayed a shrine with a unique history. Its story is one of love and redemption that grew out of a time of sorrow and despair.
In the darkest days of the Civil War, three Union soldiers from Perry County, Indiana were captured during the Battle of Chickamauga and taken to the notorious Confederate prison at Andersonville, Georgia. Andersonville was a hellhole of misery and suffering, overcrowded and with no facilities to handle the thousands of prisoners who were held there. Food and water were in short supply, while disease and starvation were everywhere.
During the fourteen months the prison was operating, more than 45,000 Union soldiers were confined at Andersonville. Of those, almost 13,000 died from disease, malnutrition, poor sanitation, overcrowding, and exposure to the elements. To bring that number into more understandable terms, that is a rate of over 30 men a day, every day for fourteen months. One death every 48 minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The three Perry County prisoners of war, Lambert Rogier, Henry Devillez, and Isidore Naviaux were thrown into this pit of suffering and tried as best they could to stay alive. Strength was in numbers, and their bond of friendship helped them to endure their hardships and suffering. Their strong religious faith also played an important role in their survival. Every day they prayed for deliverance, and promised themselves that if they survived, they would build a shrine in their church back home to show their gratitude.
Whether it was divine intervention or their strong willpower, all three men managed to stay alive and were freed at the war’s end. Returning home to Indiana, they did not forget their promise made back in Andersonville.
Henry Devillez came from Belgium as a boy of fourteen, and he remembered the lovely Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation in the Duchy of Luxembourg. In their darkest days in prison, he had told his two companions about the shrine, and they decided it was the perfect tribute of their respect and gratitude.
The shrine had a long and interesting history. In 1628 a small chapel was being built near the city of Luxembourg when disaster struck. The plague hit the region, taking thousands of lives. The death toll was so high that the cemeteries of the time could not hold all of the dead and their bodies were burned in mass fires.
Father Broquart, the priest in charge of building the chapel, was one of those struck down by the disease. Laying in his bed, feverish and near death, he prayed for the strength to recover and complete his task. He vowed that if he was allowed to finish the construction, he would dedicate the chapel to Mary, Consoler of the Afflicted.
Almost overnight the priest’s fever fell and he was soon back on his feet and back at work. True to his word, when the chapel was completed it was dedicated to Our Lady of Consolation, and a statue of the Blessed Mother holding the baby Jesus was placed on the altar.
The statue is a work of art. Both figures are dressed in white, with capes trimmed in gold, and each wears a jeweled crown. Mary holds a gold scepter and a silver heart is suspended from her arm. Jesus holds a silver ball and cross. People flocked to the chapel to pray for cures from many illnesses and diseases, and the faithful believed many of those prayers were answered. Several of these cures are recognized as bona fide miracles by the Catholic Church.
Lambert Rogier traveled to Belgium to have an exact duplicate of the shrine made. The official story says he was successful in his quest and brought the duplicate of the icon back to St. Augustine Church, where it was placed on display.
Or did he?
There is another story. Some say that Rogier was not able to find an artist capable of recreating the statue’s beauty, and that finally, in frustration, he stole the original and brought it back to Indiana. Some historians claim the theft sparked an international incident between the United States and Belgium. According to their version of the tale, things got pretty hot until Belgium’s King Leopold was told that Leopold, Indiana, where the statue was taken to, was named in his honor. So delighted was King Leopold that he relented and allowed the statue to remain at St. Augustine Church, where it remains, prominently displayed today.
So which story is true? Did three prisoners of war dedicate a copy of the holy relic to their church, or is the real statue from Belgium on display in this small community tucked away on a back road in Indiana? At this point in time, I’m not sure anyone really knows. The next time you’re in southern Indiana, stop in Leopold and pay the shrine a visit. Who knows? Maybe it will reveal the secret of its origin to you.
Be sure to enter our latest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an RV camping journal donated by Barbara House. Barbara makes several variations of these, and they all have pages where you can list the date, weather, where you traveled to and from that day, beginning and ending mileage, campground information including amenities at RV sites, a place for a campground rating, room to record activities, people met along the way, reminders of places to see and things to do the next time you’re in the area, and a page for notes for each day. To enter, all you have to do is click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.
Thought For The Day – If you line up all your exes in a row, you will see a flow chart of your mental illness.