Preaching with venom! Incredible images show the last remaining serpent-handling church of West Virginia – preachers believe handling venomous snakes and fire without harm is a sign of salvation
- Photo exhibition Gloryland showcases serpent-handling rituals at a church in Squire, West Virginia
- Preachers handle venomous snakes, ingest poison and hold bottles of fire to their chins
- Church claims true worshippers within them should be able to ingest poison without suffering – though many have died from the practice
A mix of delta blues and bluegrass music blares from the speakers of the House of the Lord Jesus, hidden deep in the Appalachian Mountains.
It is almost loud enough to drown out the sound of rattlesnakes lying in their tanks.
For the church, run by the Wolford family, is the last remaining serpent-handling church in West Virginia where preachers are known for playing with venomous snakes, drinking poison and holding bottles of fire.
Their practices date back to the early 1900s and are based on the belief that anybody who truly has the Holy Spirit within them should be able to ingest poison without suffering and survive any number of venomous bites. Such rituals have killed many and injured even more.
Here in a stomach-churning photo exhibition, Gloryland, the unique services of the House of the Lord Jesus are captured on camera by photographer Robert LeBlanc.
GLORYLAND, an exhibition at the Fahey/Klein Gallery offers an ‘intimate perspective’ into the last remaining Sign Following Pentecostal serpent-handling church in West Virginia. The church, run by the Wolford family, sees preachers handle snakes, ingest poison and handle fire in unusual services. Their rituals based on the bible passage Mark 16: 17 which reads: ‘In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.’
The House of the Lord Jesus is one of the few churches still practising serpent handling in the 21st Century. These rituals have been mired in controversy as they have been responsible for so many deaths. In 2014 Kentucky pastor Jamie Coots died after being bitten by a serpent he handled in mass. And in 1991 pastor Glen Summerford, 76, was imprisoned after he attempted to murder his unfaithful wife by forcng her to stick her hand in his cage of rattlesnakes.
A church member, Robert ‘Bobbie’ Ayers, is pictured after being bitten by a rattlesnake. The image forms part of the GLORYLAND exhibition which has been made in collaboration with NFT marketplace Super Rare and art-streaming platform Niio
In a foreword to the book of pictures, Ralph W Hood writes: ‘This is a sympathetic insight into a tradition more maligned than understood. This is their story and a view of a faith that many believe is fated to be abandoned.’
A nun is pictured holding a bottle of fire to her chin while Pastor Chris Wolford holds a rattlesnake in the background. The images were captured by Robert LeBlanc whose work is marked by uncommon intensity and immediacy.
Chris Wolford reads a bible passage in a mountain in Cucumber, West Virginia
Elijah, pictured, is the nephew of Pastor Chris Wolford here. In a HBO documentary Alabama Snake, one officer said of the practice prevalent in the Appalachian Mountains: ‘I think people that live up on the mountain tend to take care of their own problems, they don’t need or want the policing that you would find here in Scottsboro,’ explained a uniformed officer.’
Photographer Robert LeBlanc writes that the sound of rattlesnakes ‘fills the air’ in the church while the sound of ‘delta blues’ and ‘bluegrass’ music
A nun is pictured holding a bottle of fire to her chin in the exhibition which is on-show at the Fahey/Klein Gallery in Los Angeles from January 24 to 28. An NFT iteration is also available on Super Rare.
An abandoned coal loader for hopper cars. In a foreword, Ralph W Hood wrote: ‘A major theme in GLORYLAND is that of abandonment. There are wonderful pictures of abandoned buildings, homes, and an abandoned coal loader. In West Virginia, coal is king. Corporate America takes the wealth derived from coal mining, rapes and ravishes the land, and abandons what is no longer needed—including those who risk their lives underground or now operating huge machines that level entire mountains. However, abandonment is a dual theme. The simple fact is that believers in West Virginia have not abandoned God. Mired in poverty or not, believers in West Virginia are rich in their embodied faith.’
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk