The Celestial Messenger 1920s

In the 1920s Giuseppe Abbate led a renegade Catholic sect on the west side.

In the 1920s Giuseppe Abbate led a renegade Catholic sect on the west side.

Giuseppe Maria Abbate was a Neapolitan barber who was remanded to the Elgin State Hospital for the criminally insane in the 1930s, accused of statutory rape. In a bizarre chapter of Chicago history, this man attracted hundreds of Italians on the West Side to his pseudo-Catholic cult from 1919 to the early 1930s. Abbate dressed like the Pope. He claimed to have experienced a vision and to have been called by God to be his ” Messeggero Celeste” ( Celestial Messenger).
His basic “theological” teaching was that he and his followers were the reincarnation of the Virgin Mary and the saints. Photos in a rather slick magazine published by the cult in 1927 show him with a sword, cape, and helmet, protecting a child identified as “the Madonna Child Reincarnated at one year of age in the arms of the Celestial Messenger, her spiritual protector.” With his barber chair in the left foreground and a child identified as “the Virgin Mary at age 12” in the right foreground, Padre Celeste decked himself out in full regalia (including a Papal scull cap) and sat at his desk for yet another bizarre photo. (See the Author’s Images of America: Italians in Chicago for this photo).
The cult’s headquarters (reportedly at 548 W. DeKoven Street) was an old home that was decked out with banners and flags extolling “Il Messeggero Celeste.” Inside, the parlor (“Il Sacro Tempio”) was crammed with a Catholic-style altar, opulent chandeliers, candles, draperies and flowers. A charismatic figure, Abbate performed one known miracle: He was able to get his Italian followers to tithe themselves! For obvious financial and other reasons, his cult was not large or long-lived. Few today have a living memory of this Celestial phenomenon. Those who seek further information should consult the Italian American Collection at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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About Dominic Candeloro

Dominic Candeloro, 1401 Cleveland Avenue LaGrange Park, IL 60526, 708-354-0952 Cell 847-951-910 2012-13-Adjunct Prof. Italian American History, Loyola University Chicago 1981-present—Part-time volunteer program co-ordinator and librarian Italian Cultural Center at Casa Italia 2001-2006 Executive Director, American Italian Historical Association 2005-----Co Director of the Exhibit “The Dream...per non dementicare” Archivio Centrale dello Stato-Roma 1995-2003 Special Assistant to the Mayor of Chicago Heights Director, Conferences/Workshops & Weekend College, Governors State University Adjunct Professor of History 1977-1982 Visiting Assistant Professor - History, University of Illinois, Chicago.and Director of the "Italians in Chicago" Project, $300,000 NEH Grant (1979-1982). 1976-1977 Visiting Assistant Professor - History, University of Illinois, Urbana - Champaign. Ph.D. University of Illinois, Urbana - Champaign, History. Dissertation: ,Louis Freeland Post: Carpetbagger, Singletaxer, Progressive." J. Leonard Bates, Advisor. B.A. Northwestern University, 1982-1983 Fulbright Research Fellowship, Italy.

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