Tours of Madonna Della Strada Chapel Crypts Open to Students

The tours of the crypts started decades ago.

One of the university’s Halloween traditions will return this weekend when resident chaplain Rev. Jerry Overbeck gives tours of the crypts below Madonna della Strada Chapel on Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus.

Overbeck is holding four tour dates — Oct. 26-28 and Oct. 31. Each will start with a surprise before the tour begins at 8 p.m. in the chapel.

Reservations are only needed for large groups so he can make sure too many people aren’t on the same tour, according to Overbeck. He said he expects tours to last no more than 35 minutes, with extra time for attendees to explore the crypts and ask questions. Tours are not limited to Loyola students.

The tours of the crypts — vaults underneath some churches used for burial or worship — started decades ago when Overbeck was trying to come up with Halloween programs with Residence Life, he said.

“They just said, ‘Too bad we don’t have crypts like Georgetown,’” Overbeck said. “And I cocked my head and I looked, obviously nonverbally saying, ‘Are you sure about that?’”

On the tour, Overbeck said he usually talks about the cultural anthropology and theology behind Halloween in addition to the history of the crypts. He said Halloween was blended with Christianity in a phenomenon called syncretism.

Overbeck said the name “Halloween” came from “All Hallows’ Eve.” It’s celebrated on the night before All Saints’ Day — hallows is another word for saints.

Along with the crypts, the tour gives students the chance to visit Madonna della Strada Chapel without a religious pretense. Built in the Art Deco style in 1939, the chapel was renovated between 2006 and 2014 with updated facilities, restored artwork and four new bells, according to Loyola’s website.

“I get it — if I were Muslim, or Hindu, or Jewish, or agnostic, or atheist — why would I go in that building?” Overbeck said. “So many Loyola students have never been inside Madonna della Strada.”

The tours are also popular with alumni, according to Overbeck. He said he is always asked if he still does tours of the crypts when he officiates weddings. This year, he set up a fifth tour date on Sunday with the alumni office which is already at maximum capacity, with 80 alumni and their families signed up.

Tours had to stop at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and didn’t come back until last year. Overbeck said some people were still wearing masks at the time due to the lingering effects of the pandemic.

“I thought after we started them again, this may take a number of years to get back, but it was amazing,” Overbeck said. “Like the first one, we had 40-something people.”

Overbeck said many students use the tour as the start of their Halloween festivities, but it’s also a chance for students to see him as more than a priest.

“I think it’s fun, it’s a community builder,” Overbeck said. “I think many people don’t know a priest as a human being, so they’ve only known them as a functionary. They bring them in for a funeral or a baptism or a wedding. Well, this isn’t any of those things, and it’s somewhat playful so it’s fun, but you also learn some things.”

For more information or questions about the tours, contact Overbeck at [email protected].

Featured Image by Ryan Pittman / The Phoenix

Maddie Franz

Maddie Franz