SALEM, Mass. — A new chapel run by Salem witch Lori Bruno has opened at a storefront on Federal Street, appearing to add insult to injury for neighbors who are waged in an ongoing legal battle with the property owner.
Bruno’s Chapel of Michael the Archangel is on the first floor of 107 Federal St., a commercial unit in the middle of the McIntire Historic District, surrounded by homes and apartments. The church held a grand opening on Friday.
Bruno was previously associated with Magicka, a traditional witchcraft store on Wharf Street that will become part of the chapel. The church is also hosting the Giordano Bruno Center of the Humanities, honoring a far-distant ancestor of Bruno’s who was executed in 1600 after being tried for heresy. Bruno describes the church as a “non-denominational place of spiritual development and learning located in the heart of Salem.”
There are five ordained ministers in the church, including Bruno and Jaqui Allouise-Roberge, who had collaborated with Bruno on Magicka. Alloise-Roberge is opening a new retail occult shop at Magicka’s old home at Pickering Wharf.
The Federal Street storefront is central to an ongoing lawsuit between property owner Rich Jagolta and several neighbors, who are represented by local attorney and River Street resident John Carr. Carr has brought numerous suits against the city over the years and is the leading figure in several pending cases over an expansion for F.W. Webb on Bridge Street.
The first floor of the three-story building, which dates to 1880, was a grocery store until 1995, when a florist shop called The Plant Branch opened. That closed in 2006, when the unit became an art gallery. In 2014, a local real estate development manager leased the space and attempted to turn it into a real estate consulting office. Neighbors sued over those plans and eventually won, two years later.
Jagolta, seeing the commercial plans fall through, saw that as an indication to convert the space to a residential use, bringing it in line with the neighborhood. But Carr sued over that plan as well, which resulted in the space remaining vacant, tied up in litigation.
So in the meantime, Jagolta has leased the space to the Chapel of Michael the Archangel.
“Lori had reached out to me and suggested the idea of moving her church over there, and since we’re still stalled in litigation with converting to residential use, Lori and I sat down and talked about it,” Jagolta said. “I talked to the building inspector and went to the city solicitor to get their opinions on the use — and they said that, as a state-certified church, it’s an exempt use.”
Therefore, it’s allowed and can’t be targeted by any kind of appeal, according to Jagolta.
“The state law exempts houses of worship and educational institutions from zoning laws,” he noted.
When asked if the church has a permanent home in his space, Jagolta replied: “It remains to be seen.”
“We’ll see how things work for Lori and what happens with the lawsuit,” he said, “and we’ll figure it out when we get there.”
Carr, who has routinely declined to comment on lawsuits, said he has “strong suspicions” about the church being “genuine.”
“My immediate read is it’s more in the nature of a power play that’s related to the litigation,” Carr said. “I think it’s very revealing of the kind of guy Rich Jagolta is.”
Information from: The Salem (Mass.) News, http://www.salemnews.com