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Friday, March 7, 2014

Stolen Virge Replaced by Baptist Craftsman's Skill and Catholic Church Relic Salvaged by Collector

The Rev. Jim Sell, transitional rector at
Eastern Shore Chapel in Virginia Beach,
holding the church’s new virge in his
right hand and a VGEC Basic Virge in
his left hand

Roger Chesley, noted columnist with The Virginian-Pilot newspaper in Norfolk, VA wrote in 2012 in the Virginian Pilot about a stolen virge at an Episcopal church in Virginia Beach. 

After interviewing the Rev. Jim Sell, the church's transitional rector, he reported, “It's a ceremonial piece of wood. It's not worth much money. It's devoid of opulence  –  no diamonds, silver or other baubles. The 39-inch-tall, 2-pound object is called a virge. Parishioners at Eastern Shore Chapel Episcopal Church in Virginia Beach would like to have the religious symbol back where it belongs – no questions asked. I'm sure they'll even pray for the person who took it.”

Rev. Sell added, "This is nothing worth stealing. It has no monetary value at all.” Roger added that, “Bill Hunter has been a member of Eastern Shore Chapel since 1962, and he holds the title of (lead) verger. He's a mite bewildered that someone swiped the staff. After Sunday services, Hunter usually stored the virge in a choir room that's often locked. That's what he did on July 22. When Hunter tried to retrieve the virge the following Sunday, it was gone.”

"So many in the congregation have said, 'Why would anybody want a virge?' " Hunter told me this week." "You'd get maybe $100 to melt the brass.”  A new virge was purchased and Bill Hunter began using it. The stolen virge had not been found by press time, September 13th.

A few months later, February 9, 2013, something truly remarkable had happened and Roger covered it in a follow-up column.

He opened his update article as follows:  “The wood was transformed by a craftsman's skilled hands. The cross was rescued from a pile of garbage inside a Pennsylvania church facing demolition. Those efforts, by two people who aren't members of Eastern Shore Chapel Episcopal Church, have replaced a religious artifact pilfered there several months ago.”

He continues, "David Zurek is a member of the Tidewater Turners of Virginia, a nonprofit group that uses lathes and chisels to create all types of things. After reading my earlier column, Zurek told me this week, "I felt bad for the church and decided to make them a new one." He contacted Bill Hunter, the verger, and they discussed a design for a replacement virge. The new handle is red oak, and the orb is ambrosia maple. The church paid for most of the materials, which were around $70. But Zurek donated his time and expertise.

Meanwhile, Barbara L. Hancock, who has a friend who attends Eastern Shore Chapel, thought she could help by donating something stored in her garage. Hancock salvages architectural items. In 2011, she had journeyed to Philadelphia to visit the church her great-grandparents had attended. St. Boniface Catholic Church had been closed several years and was set for demolition, and folks had the chance to buy items, such as stained-glass windows. Hancock noticed a pile of trash that included a staff about 7 feet tall. "I thought, 'How horrible,' " she told me. Hancock asked workers whether she could take the discarded item, and they assured her that was OK. She brought the staff home, to Virginia Beach. After she learned of the theft of the virge, Hancock asked her friend whether Eastern Shore Chapel could use it. The Maltese cross (on the staff) was bent, but it was refashioned by Zurek and now tops the new virge. "It's so beautifully restored," Hancock told me. "I'm just so glad that it lives on!"

The Rev. Jim Sell, acting rector, subsequently showed Roger the new virge. He noted that, “…the craftsman is Baptist and the cross had been used by Catholics. They've made members of an Episcopal church very happy.”

During my recent conversation with lead verger Bill Hunter, retired Naval officer and retired marine engineer, he pointed out that Eastern Shore Chapel has been in continuous operation since 1643. He adds that the original virge, alas, has not returned.

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