Bishop in the Wilderness
by Elizabeth Altham – Summer
In November 1798, a French Sulpician sailed
from Baltimore to Havana. Benedict Joseph Flaget, 35 years old, former
professor of dogmatic theology at Nantes, former dean of discipline
at Georgetown College, former missionary to the half-apostate French
of Indiana, had already survived Indian raids and tended the afflicted
and the dying through two outbreaks of smallpox. He had traveled
the Ohio River with George Rogers Clark and had twice shaken hands
with George Washington. Ever since the day, nine years before, when
the Revolution had shattered his placid life at Nantes, Flaget had
faced the unknown with faith, and now and then with typical, practical
French humor. On this voyage, he studied Spanish.
In Havana, as planned, he met Father Dubourg, a friend
and former president of Georgetown and Father Babade, who had produced
impression on the Cubans that had led to their asking for an establishment
of Sulpicians on their island. They began to plan their new college.
But the Archbishop of Havana was old and blind; the
administration of his archdiocese was in the hands of two vicars
not fond of the French. They decreed that the newcomers would not
be allowed to offer Mass in Havana. Babade and Dubourg took ship
for Baltimore. Flaget contracted yellow fever, and remained.
Flaget’s contemporary biographer, M.J. Spalding, Bishop of
Louisville, records little of this illness. We can guess, however,
from what he says of subsequent ones, what this one was like. Flaget
would see 86, and would be gravely ill several times. Always his
response to serious illness was meditation on the Passion and cheerful
He was adopted during the fever by an elderly, aristocratic woman,
and, upon his recovery, by the Havana aristocracy in general. One
Don Nicholas Calvo installed him in his home as tutor to his son.
Flaget agreed to stay on in this capacity, provided his superiors
concurred—and provided he was allowed to say Mass. The Archbishop
obligingly died at this point, and the canons of the archdiocese
instantly granted faculties to Flaget. He began to offer Mass in
the church of the Capuchins, and his homilies drew large crowds—much
to his mystification, for he never thought well of himself as a preacher.
He spent the next two years tutoring the young Calvo, offering Mass
at the Capuchin church and pursuing his own program of study and
Flaget had learned early a disciplined habit of life. He was the
third son of a hard-working peasant family of Auvergne, born shortly
after the death of his father. Upon his mother’s death a couple
of years later, he was adopted by a paternal uncle, a canon of the
collegiate church of Billom. Little Benuet (the local patois for
the French Benoit) worked hard at the school there, and came to believe
early on that God was calling him to the priesthood. At seventeen
he began his studies of philosophy and theology at the cathedral
city of Clermont, earning his keep by tutoring wealthy classmates;
later he won a scholarship to the seminary of the Sulpicians there.
Having completed his seminary studies three years before he was
old enough for ordination, Flaget was sent to the seminary at Issy,
he served as sacristan. He learned to love silence, order and solitude,
and spent many hours in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.
Soon after his ordination and the assignment to
teach at Nantes came the Revolution, and the Terror. All the
seminaries were closed.
went to Clermont, to ask his superiors whether he might be of
use in the missions of America. He was packed off in short order,
the charge of the superior of the seminary at Orleans.
They sailed from Bordeaux in January 1792, and the North Atlantic
lived up to its reputation. Years later, someone asked Flaget whether
he did not fear these dangerous crossings. He shrugged and chuckled.
Why should we fear more to be food for fishes than food for worms,
so long as we are ready?”
Also on board were Father David, another young Sulpician and Flaget’s
good friend, and M. Stephen Badin, a secular subdeacon. Their voyage
was fairly typical of the period: priests were no longer wanted in
France, except as guillotine-fodder, so many came to the States as
They reached Baltimore at the end of March. In May, Bishop Carroll
sent Flaget to Post Vincennes, Indiana. The settlers there had
not seen a priest for three years.
(A year later, Carroll ordained Stephen Badin, the first man to
receive Holy Orders in the United States, and dispatched him to
a remarkable case of sink-or-swim. Badin came up to the mark, beginning
his mission by walking from Baltimore to Pittsburgh. He proved
to be an indefatigable apostle.)
Flaget, meanwhile, easily reached Pittsburgh by horse, but the
Ohio River was too low for navigation. He remained there nearly
studying English, visiting prisoners and assisting the many who
lay ill and dying in an outbreak of smallpox. Finally, in November,
set out on a flat-bottomed boat for Louisville.
Louisville at that time consisted of four log cabins. There Flaget
met two other French priests, en route to their new stations at
Kaskaskias and Prairie du Rocher. Under a tree, he made his confession
of them; he knew it would be many months, at least, before he would
make another. He probably foresaw then what he later reported:
the most difficult hardship of the wilderness priest was the infrequency
He proceeded by a passing flat-boat to Corn Island, near the Falls
of the Ohio. There George Rogers Clark armed one of his own boats,
and himself conducted Flaget to Post Vincennes. They arrived a
few days before Christmas.
Of his congregation of seven hundred, twelve came to Christmas
Communion. The church was of logs, open to the weather, neglected.
was of boards, badly put together. Since the last priest was recalled
to Quebec, in October 1789, the community had been managed by a
lay “guardian,” who
performed baptisms, read the Mass prayers on Sundays and witnessed
Most of the inhabitants of Vincennes were hunters and trappers,
as the original French Canadian settlers had been. Their clothing
largely of animal skins. They planted few crops and made no provision
for the education of their children. Flaget began at once to repair
the church, and to hold classes in reading, arithmetic and religion.
Soon he had a children’s choir, and a cadre of altar boys,
dressed in white from his own supply of linen. Wherever he went in
the town, he was accompanied by an honor guard of small boys. As
the months went by, both children and adults came to Mass and to
confession in rapidly growing numbers.
Flaget persuaded the men to build looms and to plant grain and
vegetables. He purchased a house and some land with a view to establishing
school in which boys might learn useful trades. One thing only
did he ask for himself: once or twice a year, an armed escort to
or Prairie du Rocher, so that he might go to confession. The danger
was quite real. Shortly after one of these trips, two Indians were
arraigned in Kaskaskias for the murder of a white man. They gave
as evidence of their innocence a report of having observed “the
Blackgown,” Flaget, passing quite close to them in the wilderness,
his escort small enough that they and their companions could easily
have killed them all.
Smallpox broke out in Vincennes and virulently among the Miami
Indians. Flaget was tireless in his visits to the sick and the
baptized eight or nine Miamis on their deathbeds.
But the Sulpicians who were then administering Georgetown College
were short handed. In April 1795 they appointed Benedict Flaget
dean of discipline and professor of geography and French. It was
three-year stint—in term-time and out of it, for he accompanied
his students on their vacations. Apparently they became as much attached
to him as his trapper boys had been. One of them, Benedict Fenwick,
would later serve as Bishop of Boston.
Bishop Carroll’s plan had always been to give the college to
the Jesuits as soon as they were strong enough to run it. Finally,
in the fall of 1798, the Sulpicians withdrew and Flaget was sent
In all of these adventures the theme of Flaget’s life stands
out: to turn accidents and the thwarting of plans to God’s
good service. The meeting in 1792 with George Rogers Clark would
not be the last; nor would the meeting in 1800 with Louis Philippe,
then in exile in Havana. When the future King of France was about
to sail for the States, some wealthy Cubans made up a purse for him
and detailed Flaget to deliver it. Years later, the King would remember.
While Flaget was apparently being thrown at random over the map of
the New World, Providence was laying the foundation for his great
Early in 1801, Don Nicholas Calvo proposed that Flaget accompany
his son on a tour of Europe. Flaget worried about the plan. “Those
who travel much,” he quoted Thomas á Kempis, “are
rarely sanctified. As often as I have been among men, I have returned
less than a man.” Indeed, the first families of Havana had
continued to invite Flaget to dinners, while accepting the fact that
he nearly always declined, preferring study and contemplation.
The habit of obedience came to his rescue. He referred Don Nicholas’ proposal
to his superiors and put the matter out of his mind, pending their
verdict. This is an obvious pattern in his life. At turning point
after turning point, he awaited the decision of his superiors, confident
(with one notable exception) that he could not go wrong by obeying,
always keeping to his usual discipline of prayer and study.
Don Nicholas settled the question by dying in May. Flaget grieved.
He wrote to his older brother, by now a parish priest in a temporarily
Providence, the designs of which I cannot too much admire, has
interposed to fill my days with bitterness. The death of my own
not have caused me greater grief. He lived but 42 years; but, in
my opinion, these were worth an age.
Flaget gathered 23 young Cubans for the college at Baltimore, and
took leave of Havana.
He was very glad to return to the college. He sometimes said that
he regarded his years of formation and early study at the houses
of Clermont and Issy as the happiest of his life. He loved the
silent service of the altar; the hours of self-forgetful adoration.
at home in an ordered, established ecclesiastical environment—precisely
because that order gave him the freedom of contemplation.
Life at the college in Maryland was similar. He enjoyed the company
of the students, and became attached to them. He had time for reading,
for contemplation, for retreats. The Society of the Jesuit faculty
was at that time suppressed, but they carried out their exercises
in private. Flaget much admired their seriousness and valued their
For eight years he stayed there. The log churches of the Indiana
missions, the piety of his trapper boys, the smallpox, the grandeur
of the frontier, the lively color of Havana, receded in memory.
He was on familiar ground: the classroom and the sacristy.
But Bishop Carroll was growing old, and very weary. With the exception
of Louisiana, which was still subject to the Archbishop of Havana,
he bore responsibility for all of the United States. He proposed
to the Holy See four new bishoprics: Boston, New York, Philadelphia
and Bardstown, Kentucky. The first three would be relatively local,
although enormous by modern standards. The last, Bardstown, would
have official charge over Kentucky and Tennessee, but for the foreseeable
future would include also Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and
Michigan. (By an informal request of the Bishop of New Orleans,
it would end up including Missouri as well.) For the first ordinary
of Bardstown, Carroll proposed Benedict Flaget, writing of him
the Cardinal Prefect of Propaganda:
For several years he was stationed at a place called Post Vincennes,
lying between the waters of the Ohio and the lakes of Canada, where,
with the greatest industry and the most hearty good will of all,
he labored in promoting piety, until, to my great regret, he was
recalled to fill some office in this seminary. He is at least forty
years of age, of a tender piety toward God, of most bland manners,
and if not profoundly, at least sufficiently imbued with theological
In fact, Flaget was 43 when Carroll wrote the above.
The Cardinal Prefect endorsed Carroll’s recommendation. The
Bulls of Benedict Flaget were dated April 8, 1808; they reached Baltimore
in September. Rumor had picked Father David for Bardstown; he and
Flaget met on the steps of the seminary, and David gave his friend
They told me,” said David, “that I was to be the Bishop
of Bardstown. I did not believe it; but I determined that, should
this happen, I would invite you to accompany me. Now, the case being
happily reversed, I tender to you my services without reserve.”
I thank you, my good friend,” said Flaget, “and I accept
your offer, in the event that it should please God not to suffer
this chalice to pass away from me.”
For Flaget knew what the rest of his life would be. He remembered
the log churches, the tiptoeing around the Indian scouting parties,
the hundreds of marriages and lay baptisms he had validated, the
general ignorance and disorder. This was the end of a peaceful
existence in a peaceful institution, the end of daily discourse
scholars. For the first several years at least, it was the end
of solemn Mass offered with great attention to rubric and decorum
an august and dignified setting.
Indeed, his first episcopal palace would be a log cabin near Bardstown,
twelve feet by twelve feet. His first seminarians would sleep in
For the first and only time in his life Flaget protested an order,
not because he dreaded hardship, but because he was utterly persuaded
he was unworthy. With the reluctant permission of Dubourg, he fled
to France and sought out his old superior, Father Emery, hoping
he would support his wish to decline the appointment.
Emery met him with stern words: “My Lord, you should already
be in your diocese.”
Flaget returned to America.
To prepare himself for his consecration he engaged in a retreat
of forty days beginning in September 1810. On November 4, the Feast
of St. Charles Borromeo, he was consecrated by Archbishop Carroll
in the cathedral at Baltimore.
He had collected four priests and three seminarians to help the
beginning of his outpost, but he had no money with which to travel
He wrote to friends in France:
I was compelled to accept the appointment, whether I would or not.
I had not a cent at my disposal. The Pope and the cardinals, who
were dispersed by the revolution, were not able to make me the
slightest present; and Archbishop Carroll, though he had been Bishop
than sixteen years, was still poorer than myself, for he had debts,
and I owed nothing…. It was only six months afterwards, that,
through a subscription made by my friends in Baltimore, I was enabled
to reach Bardstown.”
The new Bishop and his friends left Baltimore in May 1811, retracing
the route he had taken to Pittsburgh nineteen years before. The
trip down the Ohio in a flat-boat from Pittsburgh took two weeks.
David wrote to a friend in France:
The boat on which we descended the Ohio became the cradle of our
seminary, and of the church of Kentucky. Our cabin was chapel,
dormitory, study room and refectory. An altar was erected on the
ornamented so far as circumstances would allow. The Bishop prescribed
a regulation which fixed all the exercises, and in which each had
its proper time. On Sunday, after prayer, everyone went to confession;
then the priests said Mass, and the others went to communion. After
an agreeable navigation, we arrived at Louisville.
The people of Bardstown sent a carriage to Louisville for their
new bishop, and horses for his priests and seminarians. In many
however, the roads were so bad that Flaget had to leave the carriage
and walk. One of the seminarians gave him his horse and walked
by his side.
Close to Bardstown the road improved and the Bishop rode again
in his carriage. He wrote to his brother in France a few days later:
I was not the more exalted for all this; the idea that I was henceforward
to speak, to write and to act as Bishop cast me into a profound
At the distance of half a league from town, an ecclesiastic of my
diocese [probably Stephen Badin], accompanied by the principal inhabitants,
came out to meet me. So soon as they had perceived me, they dismounted
to receive my benediction. I gave it to them, but with how trembling
a hand, and how heavy a heart! In entering the town, I devoted myself
to all the guardian angels who reside therein, and I prayed to God,
with all my heart, to make me die a thousand times, should I not
become an instrument of His glory. O, my dear brother, have compassion
It is very clear from other things he wrote that he did not believe
himself in need of compassion because of the poverty of his new
diocese, but because he was now responsible before God for its
In Kentucky there were about a thousand families in thirty congregations,
ten with churches or chapels already built; and six more under
construction. Tennessee was slightly behind; Ohio, Indiana, Illinois
were even more thoroughgoing wilderness. These were slight differences
of degree, for it was all still untamed. Robert Penn Warren wrote
of the Kentucky of the time:
[T]he leather hunting shirt and the broadcloth coat mixed at burgoo,
barbecue, market or hustings, and a man might wear both the coonskin
cap and the two-story beaver in his time. It was a violent and
lonely land, and when night came on, the loneliness was equal for
brick house with the white portico overlooking a meadow or the
log hut set at the head of a cove in the knobs. Eastward, cutting
the past, rose the wall of the mountains, and westward the wilderness
stretched away forever with its terror and promise….
Squire Beaumont…served as a magistrate, sitting with a black
coat and riding whip behind a table in the Beartooth Tavern to take
his jorum and dispense justice…. Aging men with broken black
teeth and hairy faces who had little love for the corn patch or mill,
who knew all the hints of weather and lifted the head like a hound
when the breeze changed or faltered, loved to lie in the sun in front
of their tumbled-down cabins, with a jug of whisky at hand, while
their leather-faced wives fetched wood or hoed in the field. –World
Enough and Time, 1950
It was quite a diocese for the new Bishop. He had eight priests:
the four he had brought from Baltimore, and four already there.
Father David he appointed superior of his seminary. In the first
the number of seminarians grew from three to fifteen. Father Badin
wrote of them later:
They made bricks and cut wood to build the church of St. Thomas,
the seminary and the convent of Nazareth. The poverty of our infant
establishments compelled them to spend their recreation in labor….
Nothing could be more frugal than their table, which is also that
of the Bishop.
In the early years, Flaget seldom took time to record his efforts.
In the summer of 1812, however, he calculated that in the first
four months of that year he had ridden eight hundred miles on horseback.
Before the beginning of 1815, he had visited all the congregations
He would have done it sooner, but Archbishop Carroll called a Provincial
Council in August 1812. Flaget went through Ohio this time, visiting
the very patchy settlements of Catholics there. He stopped at a
log cabin between Lancaster and Somerset. When he told the German
he had come from Kentucky, the man exclaimed, “I have been
a long time thinking of Kentucky, with my wife! They say there are
churches and priests there. Wife! We must go thither; it is thirteen
years since we saw a priest or a church, and our poor children (too).”
But Flaget interrupted him: “No, my children. Stay where you
are. I am your bishop. I will endeavor to send you a priest.” The
man informed him that there were two other Catholic families in the
neighborhood; the Bishop offered Mass at one of their houses, and
learned that they had purchased 320 acres for a church and its support.
Flaget recorded in his journal that he had great hopes for the Church
in Ohio, on account of the diligence of the Germans, and their love
of good music.
Reaching Baltimore, he learned that the Council had been postponed.
A letter had been sent to him, but had arrived at Bardstown after
his departure. Spalding speculates that the Council was postponed
because the Pope was at the time in prison, and it would have seemed
rather rude to hold an official meeting.
On his return trip, Flaget stopped to lecture a couple of congregations
in Kentucky who had declined to contribute funds for the regular
support of their pastors. He did so forcefully, threatening them
with excommunication. The evening of his arrival back at his “palace,” he
wrote in his journal:
Recreation with the seminarians. I love to be in the midst of them.
I reproach myself with not being sufficiently grave in their company.
In 1814, Flaget visited Indiana and Missouri. The latter had not
originally been part of his jurisdiction, belonging rather to the
Diocese of New Orleans; but his old friend Father Dubourg had been
assigned as interim administrator of New Orleans, and asked him
to lend a hand. The Bishop reached Vincennes in May, and was enthusiastically
received by his former congregation. He stayed there two weeks,
the children, hearing confessions and attending to the temporal
affairs of the parish. He preached in English and French and confirmed
people. These two weeks are quite typical of his visits to parishes
in his diocese until the mid-1840s.
In June he started for the Mississippi escorted by a company of
French Rangers who amused themselves in the crossing of Illinois
deer and turkey. “These vast plains,” Flaget wrote in
his journal, “seem destined by the Creator for the rearing
of millions of sheep.” At Cahokias he found an orderly congregation
with a surplus of $200. He heard confessions and confirmed 118 people.
The parishioners accompanied him to the Mississippi.
His first visit to St. Louis appears to have been a complete lead
balloon. The people were caught up in the Fourth of July festivities
and few turned up to hear him. A few fashionable ladies annoyed
him by their ostentatious presentation of an ornate miter and crook.
There, however, he heard a first rumor of the downfall of Napoleon,
and resolved to have a solemn Te Deum sung upon his return to Kentucky.
He also renewed his acquaintance with George Rogers Clark, now
Governor of Missouri. Clark invited Flaget to his house and asked
him to baptize
three of his children, as well as an orphan he had adopted. Flaget
In Florissant he was better received. The people came in procession
to receive his blessing led by children bearing banners. For his
re-crossing of the Mississippi they loaded his canoe with flowers.
The next thirteen years of Flaget’s life fall into a pattern,
although to us they can hardly seem routine: visits, usually on horseback,
to outlying parishes; nights under the stars on frozen prairies and
in mosquito-ridden swamps; interludes of instruction and companionship
with his seminarians; the importation of teaching sisters from Europe;
the foundation of orphanages and schools. Above all, thousands of
miles, mostly on horseback, sometimes by riverboat. He occasionally
recorded in his journal how many days it had been since he slept
in a bed.
In 1816 he began the subscription for the erection of a cathedral
in Bardstown. In 1819 the building was completed and consecrated.
Flaget was obliged to move into town, leaving the seminary which,
although it had grown, was still pleasantly secluded. He noted
in his journal that his new residence was “too handsome and too
vast for a Bishop.”
Once he was compelled to lay an interdict on a parish in Michigan
that had defied its pastor. He did not think he could leave it
at that, however, and set out to visit and set things right. Spalding
Passing through Dayton and Springfield, he had the happiness to
say Mass at Urbana on the 24th of May . Here he was much
on account of his ignorance of the remaining route, which lay through
a country thinly settled. He had recourse to prayer, and committed
himself and his party to the care of Providence. Fortunately, a
young officer, named
Gwynn, was going to
Detroit, and he kindly offered his services as guide.
(The modern imagination cannot resist the image of the Bishop outside
the church in Urbana, asking directions to Detroit so he could
go and lift his own interdict.)
Not until 1821 was the first new diocese carved out of Bardstown’s
original territory. At Flaget’s recommendation, Edward Fenwick,
an intrepid missionary, was appointed first Bishop of Cincinnati
with responsibility for all of Ohio. Two years later Joseph Rosati
was appointed Coadjutor of New Orleans for a term of three years
after which he would become the first Bishop of St. Louis.
In 1822 Flaget decreed that all the priests of his diocese must
make a retreat once each year. Always Flaget made these retreats
with his clergy; his old friend David, now Coadjutor of Bardstown,
usually gave them.
In 1829 or 1830, Flaget was attacked by weariness. He wrote to
Rome offering his resignation and proposing F.P. Kenrick as his
In May 1830 he received the Bulls of Bishop-elect Kenrick—for
Philadelphia, not Bardstown. Delivering them to Kenrick, he observed: “Behold
here the certificate of the cross you will have to carry!”
In 1833 F. Rese, a Propagandist, was named first Bishop of Detroit.
A year later Flaget’s old parish of Vincennes was erected as
the see of Indiana; a Dr. Brute was named first Bishop of Vincennes.
Bishops of dioceses outside Europe were obliged to visit Rome once
every ten years. Because of his unusually great responsibilities,
Flaget was excused this duty until 1835. When he did finally go,
he found reason to fear he might never return. Much to his bewilderment,
he caught the imaginations of the Italians and the French. The “Bishop
of the Wilderness” was in great demand, giving conferences
and raising funds for the Propaganda. He begged Gregory XVI to allow
him to go home, but the Holy Father refused citing first the good
he was doing in stirring up a more lively faith and later the bad
weather in the North Atlantic. Flaget wrote to his brother:
It is in vain that they feast me wherever I go…. In vain do
I find myself associating with Archbishops and Bishops, with mayors
and prefects, with marquises and counts…. In vain do they overwhelm
me with polite attentions and compliments, in prose and in verse,
treating me as an apostolic man, as the foreign missionary….
If I think but one moment of Billom, all these good eulogies pass
over my head like a light breeze.
He had been thinking for some time that his see ought to be moved
to Louisville, which had developed into the leading town of Kentucky.
He asked Gregory about it, but the Pope referred the question to
In the end, between the Pope’s assignments (including a tour
of 46 dioceses in France and Sardinia) and some fundraising for his
own diocese, Flaget remained in Europe until the summer of 1839.
He was received cordially by King Louis Philippe who remembered him
from Havana, by the Emperor in Vienna and by Metternich. He collected
construction funds for his diocese, and a papal blessing for his
flock. Gregory particularly asked him to bring his blessing “face
to face” to as many of his faithful as he could.
His 77th birthday passed before he reached Bardstown. He spent
the next two years in a visitation of his diocese.
He seemed,” Spalding reports, “to have again put on the
vigor of his younger days. He sat erect in the saddle and appeared,
after a severe day’s ride, to be not much more fatigued than
his younger companions.” It was Flaget’s Indian summer.
Cholera broke out in Louisville and the surrounding area. Flaget
did not spare himself in visiting the sick and the dying. He fell
ill himself, whether to “le sieur cholera” or merely
from fatigue, Spalding does not say. He was afflicted more and more
often with violent headaches. An old shoulder injury, collected in
a fall from a horse many years before, flared up.
Bishop David and Flaget’s brother both died in 1841. In the
same year, Flaget received the rescript that authorized him to move
his see to Louisville; the timing was left up to him. To move to
an even larger, noisier town was the last thing he wished, but it
was clearly the correct course.
The Jesuits came to take charge of St. Joseph’s College and
to open a school for boys in Louisville. The Trappists arrived from
France and took possession of their new home at Gethsemani.
On August 15, 1849, the cornerstone of the new cathedral was laid.
Flaget was too ill and weary to attend the ceremony, but he observed
it from a balcony of his new residence and lifted a hand in benediction.
His memory and eyesight were failing. At first he found it a great
cross that he could no longer offer Mass or say the Office; soon,
however, he was at peace simply praying Rosaries, often nine or
more in a day. He was conscious of his failing memory, and anxious
it might cause inconvenience to those around him.
I forget everything,” he said. “Could I but forget myself,
I would be a perfect man.”
He received Last Rites on February 11, 1850, gave a final benediction
to his clergy and died quietly.
His body was temporarily laid to rest in the convent of the Sisters
of the Good Shepherd, until the new cathedral was completed and
it could be moved there. The coffin was left open for a long time
interment so that the faithful could pass by and touch crucifixes
and medals to the body.