Photo by Justin Criado
Saint Anthony Chapel, tucked away in Troy Hill, houses the largest collection of Christian relics in the world outside of the Vatican.
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By Justin Criado
It’s winter in Troy Hill.
The narrow lanes of Lowrie Street feel more crowded than usual with the piles of snow to each side, and while it’s not a particularly busy day, the gentle snowfall seems to make the neighborhood move in slow motion as it lays itself down on every visible surface.
Such is life during this time of the year. The typically quiet neighborhood lulled to sleep by Mother Nature, keeping most inside.
One woman braves the weather, though, and finds herself walking to Harpster Street, nestled in the rear of the area, where the twin steeples of Saint Anthony Chapel still stand proud even amongst the harsh conditions.
Once inside the woman is welcomed to the golden glow and warmth of one of the most unique places of worship in the world. Hymnals play softly as she lights a votive candle, and after a brief moment of silence and reflection the woman disappears back in to the icy white weather as if she was never there.
Scenes like that are commonplace in the chapel, according to Carole Brueckner. As chapel chairperson and head docent, Brueckner recalls many stories of similar pilgrimages and observance.
“Many people have said to me that when they walk in (to the chapel) they feel a presence,” Brueckner said. “That is not unusual because you are surrounded by so many relics of saints our church verifies are in Heaven.
“…Many people say they feel a presence and I will not dispute that.”
Saint Anthony Chapel is home to the largest collection of Christian relics in the world, outside of the Vatican, with over 5,000 verified items.
“It’s like wanting to share something that’s so sacred,” Brueckner said of continuing to spread the word of this Troy Hill treasure. “I always talk about the chapel as being my sanctuary. It’s a great place just to come, sit down and listen.”
Relics are divided in to three classifications, with each class having its own criteria. For example, a first class relic is one that directly came in to contact with Jesus Christ or any part of a saints body.
“You see that small reliquary?” Brueckner asked during the tour. “Inside that is a piece of thorn from the Crown of Thorns.”
Brueckner goes on to point out pieces of wood from the cross and Last Supper table, bones from all 12 of the Apostles, and clothes Jesus wore as an infant.
“People will say many times ‘how do you know?’ Well first, what is our faith? Our faith is believing without proof. We also know the church doesn’t do anything rapidly or without research,” Brueckner said. “It is hard to understand, but the Catholic faith there’s many things we believe that we can’t prove.”
Most of the relics were gathered by Suitbert Godfrey Mollinger, a Belgian-born noble/physician-turned-priest who settled in the area in the late 1800’s. Father Mollinger saved most of the relics from Europe during wartimes and the collection was dedicated in 1883.
The Vatican recognizes the collection and each relic has a Certificate of Authenticity from the church.
“This is our little Vatican,” Brueckner said. “It’s just like going back in to Europe.”
Brueckner was born and raised in Troy Hill, and grew up as a member of Most Holy Name of Jesus Church, which held events in the chapel.
She recalls the 1970’s when the chapel fell into despair before being renovated in 1978. The chapel is maintained strictly on private donations, and fundraisers have been held in the past for minor repairs. Nowadays, regular tours are held, and 400-500 visitors pass through the chapel doors a month, depending on the weather.
No matter when a visitor enters the sacred walls, Brueckner’s advice is the same.
“Just listen and maybe the saints and our Lord are trying to tell you something.”
The chapel is one of two places in the Diocese of Pittsburgh this year where one can gain the privilege of The Holy Year of Mercy Plenary Indulgence.
Mass, devotions and weddings are still practiced in the chapel.
For more information please visit the official website.