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Closer walk with thee

back to St. Mary's Epsicopal Cathedral's web site

photo by Gary Bridgman


A spectral projection (from a stained glass window) seems to climb above a portrait of the Very Rev. Israel Noe (Dean of St. Mary's from 1921-1938) near the interior entrance to the Sisters' Chapel, the oldest part of St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral, Memphis.The effect seems fitting, given the Dean's unusual beliefs about the power of the spirit to overcome death.


This article appeared in TIME magazine the week of January 24, 1938:


"Noe's Woes"

A haggard, burning-eyed clergyman last week went about his duties in St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral in Memphis, Tenn. and in his home in the shadow of the white stone Gothic fane. People in his Bible class, at wedding and funeral services he conducted, at Holy Communion in the Cathedral, eyed Very Rev. Israel Harding Noe with silent, respectful curiosity. They had read in Memphis newspapers that this dean of the Cathedral, once a florid and jovial churchman, had for a year taken no nourishment but orange juice. For a fortnight, to prove that "the soul is above the need of material life," he had, according to his friends, subsisted on sips of wine and tiny wafers from the communion services he conducted thrice weekly.


Nearly seven years ago Ellen Morris Cam bios Noe (pronounced Noy), wife of the dean and mother of his two daughters, left the deanery, brought suit for divorce. Dean Noe had ceased marital relations with her, believing that childbirth might endanger her health and that "the only Christian standard of birth control is self control." Mrs. Noe lost her suit (TIME, March 14, 1932, et ante), remained separated from the dean until last month. By that time Dean Noe had embarked upon the course which doctors and friends said last week could end only in death or forced feeding.


As Dean Noe, long a popular, liberal-minded Memphis churchman, performed his pastoral tasks last week with vigor which amazed observers, he insisted that his huskiness of voice, his loss of weight from 200 pounds to 100 pounds or less, were the result of a recent attack of influenza. In Chicago, Dr. Morris Fishbein, perennial spokesman for U. S. Medicine, expressed doubt that Dean Noe had lived on oranges for a year, cracked: "The stomach has no religion."


In his sermon last Sunday Dean Noe declared: "Unless the Church can demonstrate here in the 20th Century that the life of the Gospels can be lived in full, the Church may as well close its doors." In an interview next day the dean clarified his views and answered Dr. Fishbein by saying: "No man could live on oranges alone, that is, on the natural plane. I have displaced the need for oranges by building up within myself spiritual strength and energy. . . . I intend to prove that the spirit can sustain the body, unaided by food or drink."


...and in the next issue of TIME ( 31 January 1938):



In Memphis last week Rt. Rev. James Matthew Maxon, Episcopal bishop of Tennessee, sat up in the sickbed where he had lain for 18 days ailing of influenza, and for the first time learned some-thing that all the rest of his diocese knew. Very Rev. Israel Harding Noe, dean of St. Mary's Cathedral in Memphis, was entering the third week of a fast which he hoped would prove that "the soul is above the need of material life" (TIME, Jan. 24).


From his sickbed, Bishop Maxon at once wrote a letter to his dean, informing him that "it is convincingly evident to me that you be removed as dean of St. Mary's Cathedral. This removal will take place at once. ... I do not think that you are at present your normal self, and I wish to give you an opportunity to return to your normal self when you will be able to exercise the abilities and spirituality which you so abundantly possess in the spread of Christ's kingdom. . . ."


To reporters Bishop Maxon said: "When the dean gives up his vagary, there will be a place for him in the diocese. . . . I cannot, I will not permit the teaching, the preaching or the practicing of such a vagary in my diocese. It is contrary to all that the church teaches."


Shocked, Dean Noe said nothing as he accepted the bishop's verdict. The dean had been unable to go to a diocesan convention in Knoxville because, at the last minute, Mrs. Noe took ill, collapsed. Because of that convention, no weekday services were held in the Cathedral, and for the first time ousted Dean Noe went for a week without the communion bread & wine which had previously solaced, and partially nourished, him. Some 30 members of the parish were reported anxious to join him in his fast, but he attempted to discourage them. At week's end the gaunt, feverish-eyed dean gave the 15-minute religious talk he has been accustomed to deliver on the radio, but so sickly did he look that the Memphis station installed a microphone in the deanery, persuaded him to remain there to broadcast in his quavering voice.


On Sunday, Dean Noe sat in a pew in the Cathedral whose pulpit he had occupied for 17 years, while a sermon criticizing such "vagaries" as his 22-day fast was preached by Rev. Royden Keith Yerkes of the University of the South (Sewanee, Tenn.). That night the Dean collapsed, was taken to a hospital where Memphis specialists, who had been waiting a week for such an emergency, attempted to save his life with forced feeding.

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Taken on March 2, 2008