The Skull-Faced Ghost

St. Andrew's Cathedral is the Roman Catholic cathedral for the diocese of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. Built in the High Victorian Gothic style, St. Andrew's was Victoria's third cathedral to be built. (The first, 1858–1884, is now the Chapel of St. Ann's Academy on Humboldt Street; the second, 1884–1892, was on the site behind the current building now occupied by the St. Andrew's Square office building). The cathedral houses a crypt, where three of Victoria's former Bishops are interred: Bishop Modeste Demers (the first Bishop of Victoria), Charles John Seghers (the second and fourth Bishop) murdered in Alaska, Rt. Rev. John J. Jonckau,a (former Vicar General of the Diocese of Victoria who was named as Bishop but died before being consecrated). The site was believed to be haunted by the murdered bishop buried there named Bishop Segher. The cathedral itself was built in 1158 and became the centre of the Medieval Catholic Church in Scotland as the seat of the Archdiocese of St Andrews and the Bishops and Archbishops of St Andrews.

Charles John Seghers attended a college that was founded to provide America with English-speaking clergymen. He responded to an appeal for the colony of Vancouver Island, arriving in Victoria in 1863. By 1873 he was named Bishop of Vancouver Island. By birth he was Belgian and in the 47th year of his age when he was murdered. He arrived in Victoria in November 1863 as an assistant to the late Bishop Demers, who died in July, 1871. Father Seghers was then appointed administrator of the diocese of Vancouver Island, a position which he filled with such prudence and zeal that at a solemn consistory, held in Rome on Friday, March 23, 1873, Very Rev. John Charles Seghers was appointed to succeed the deceased bishop of that see, being at that time the youngest bishop in the American prelacy. Immediately upon his consecration the youthful bishop entered upon the development of the religious interests of his diocese; new missions were organized, churches were built, schools were established, and the magnificent edifice known as St. Joseph's Hospital was erected in Victoria.

On the morning of November 28, 1886, one of his assistant named Francis Fuller shot Bishop Seghers through the heart as he leaned over to gather his gear. The man died instantly in front of the two horrified guides. Fuller immediately began to act even more bizarre, shaking one of the guide’s hands while expressing to them that “the man” needed to be killed. The guides wrapped up the body and left to get help with Fuller accompanying them willingly. The party reached the village that day. No one knew what to do with Fuller. He wasn’t immediately incarcerated, but was instead sent to another village for the winter, away from two local white women who had expressed “terror” at being in his presence. Fuller continued to act strangely over the duration of the winter, apparently changing his story as to what had happened several times.

It wasn’t until spring that the other priests learned of the bishop’s death. By the time the body was recovered from the site of the murder, his face had been partially eaten by mice. Bishop Seghers’ body was moved to the cemetery at St. Michael in Alaska and finally buried in July of 1887.

The examiners discovered that the cause of the Archbishop's death was a bullet wound in the left breast immediately above the heart. The tragic death of the good Archbishop produced a profound feeling of sorrow throughout the Northwest, where he was widely known and greatly loved. His services here for religion and morality were sincere and devoted, and exceptionally successful.

However, Bishop Seghers’ apparition, became one of Vancouver Island’s most terrifying visages: a man in full priest attire glides across the cathedral’s floor from out of the shadows. Sometimes he stands still and stares. His smile can be seen, even in the dark—that wide, toothy, piteous smile. As one’s eyes adjust to the shadows, a chill creeps inside of a chest refusing to breathe. Instead of a face, or hair, or flesh of any kind, the apparition of the priest has a bare-boned smiling skull set upon his shoulders.

It is not exactly what one would expect from a man who has dedicated his life to spreading the word of God. The bare skull is odd too. The only reported damage to the bishop’s face at the time was from field mice. As already noted, the British Colonist account of the funeral said that Seghers was recognizable in his coffin, suggesting his face had remained intact even though mice had eaten part of it. Why he’d appear without flesh on his face is a mystery. Like others, this story may have morphed over time as it was passed from one teller to another.

Some believe that ghosts truly are the dead. These otherworldly beings are often said to exist because they have unfinished business in the mortal realm, or because they don’t know that they have died. 

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