St. Elvis and the Miracle of the Rosary

Elvis Presley had a keen, if eclectic, interest in religion.

(photo: Register Files)

Elvis Presley visited Great Britain only once.

He had been demobilized from the army and was en route back to the United States from Germany. The plane on which he traveled made a scheduled stop for refueling at Prestwick Airport in Scotland. The then-Sergeant Presley left the plane briefly, whereupon he was met by some of his Scottish fans.

Soon his plane was in the air again. Presley would never return to Britain.

The date of this stopover was March 3, 1960. This was just two days after the feast of St. David. St. David is, of course, the patron saint of Wales. What is less well-known is that the man who baptized David was St. Elvis.

While looking through the index of the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia one may be surprised to see, under “E,” a page reference for “St. Elvis.” The saint does not warrant his own entry in the encyclopedia but appears as part of the account of St. David’s life. Following David’s birth in A.D. 454, he received “baptism at Porth Clais by St. Elvis of Munster, whom Divine Providence brought over from Ireland at that conjuncture."

The name Elvis appears to be the Latinized version of the Celtic name: Ailbe. There is a St. Ailbe who is connected to the town of Emly in County Tipperary, which forms part of Munster, the southern of Ireland’s Four Provinces. Today, Emly has a Catholic Church dedicated to St. Ailbe dating from the 19th century, and in its churchyard a weathered stone cross known to this day as “St. Ailbe's Cross.” Little else is known of St. Ailbe.

In Wales, however, there are the ruins of a parish of St. Elvis. It is in Pembrokeshire, on the Welsh coast facing Ireland. The remains of a parish church and monastery dedicated to St. Elvis stands just west of another church dedicated to St. David. Today, in that vicinity, there is also a well and working farm named after St. Elvis.

The name Presley is Scottish in origin. But close by where St. Elvis is venerated in Wales lie a range called the Preseli Hills. While the ancestry of Elvis Presley is claimed to be a mix of British, Cherokee and Jewish, there seems little agreement among his many biographers as to why his parents named the future singer “Elvis.” Could it be that the family origin was Welsh and that in the dim and distant past his family had retained some knowledge of an obscure sixth-century saint? 

Known by his fans as the “King of Rock n’ Roll,” Presley’s religious faith is often listed simply as being a follower of the Assembly of God. Although this was the Christian group that Presley attended as a boy, his religious adherence to any Christian denomination was at best vague, his faith being more private than public. Of course, Gospel-singing was close to his heart and he is quoted as saying that it was his favorite form of music, but whether this was because of the folk and cultural influences of his youth rather than any deep religious sentiment is open to conjecture.

What is known is that Presley had a keen, if eclectic, interest in religion. While in Hollywood in the early 1960s he became fascinated by various esoteric beliefs and later was to construct his own belief system out of this. One biographer succinctly summed up Presley’s beliefs as “a personalised religion [made] out of what he’d read of Hinduism, Judaism, numerology, theosophy, mind control, positive thinking and Christianity.”

Among his Gospel songs, there is one that is curious to say the least. It is a song called Miracle of the Rosary. The writer of the sleeve notes on one collection of his Gospel music, while able to place Presley’s other Gospel songs in the religious and social context of the American South, is clearly at a loss as to how to categorize Miracle of the Rosary in that, or, indeed, any way. This is not surprising, as the song appears to be about the powerful intercession of Our Blessed Mother in the End Times. The track may be short, running for just over two minutes, but there is still time for Elvis to fully intone the Hail Mary.

The origins of Miracle of the Rosary are odd too. The song appeared on the 1972 album Elvis Now, but Presley had recorded it earlier in May 1971. The song was written by one of Elvis’s childhood friends, Lee Denson. Denson was the son of a Pentecostal minister. It remains unclear as to why a son of a Pentecostal minister should write a song about the power of the Rosary and then why a non-Catholic singer should choose to record it.

Only one female co-star appeared in two of Presley’s films: Dolores Hart. To the shock of the movie business, she left Hollywood to enter religious life. In 1970, the then-film star entered the Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis, Connecticut, where she remains a cloistered nun to this day. The night before she entered the monastery, Presley unexpectedly called her to wish her well in her vocation. He was one of the few of her former Hollywood circle that did so. Later, long after his death in 1977, she was to say that she had never stopped praying for Elvis.

The name of the Benedictine monastery in Connecticut dedicated to Our Lady, Regina Laudis, in English means “the Queen of Praise.” Shortly after Hart’s entry there, mysteriously, a “king” was to praise that same Queen by singing Miracle of the Rosary.