By John A. Nau
So many of us think we know Pittsburgh? We know its historical reputation as the steelmaking mecca that helped build America, and all of us know Pittsburgh as the city of champions with our great sports teams. Yet, the city has treasures that are lost to the average citizen. There are secreted places known around the world and yet few Pittsburghers have ever heard of them.
One such location, St. Anthony’s Chapel, sits quietly atop Troy Hill which overlooks our towering city. The place holds mesmerizing beauty and incredible history, yet, so few of us are even aware it exists. To my shock, I discovered that thousands travel from all over the world to this religious site.
Why do they make this journey? The answer lies within the history of St. Anthony’s. The Chapel stands as the lifetime achievement of Father Suitbert Mollinger and holds one of the world’s greatest collections of saintly relics. Only the Vatican, the very center of the Catholic Church, boasts a greater collection. You see, Father Mollinger had been born into a wealthy family of Belgian nobles. The young Mollinger took advantage of his position becoming a highly regarded physician in his time. He sought to relieve the suffering of the sick and dying.
Throughout these early years, he remained committed to his faith. Then Suitbert became fascinated with the relics of the saints and having the financial means he began a collection. Relics, are a part of a deceased holy person’s body or clothing which has been secured and saved so that it may be venerated by future generations. Often times, these relics are reputed by religious followers to possess the power of healing, and of being capable of blessing one with good fortune. More often, however, and more importantly they serve to remind the faithful of the difficult price of martyrdom that the saints paid in the professing of their faith.
While a physician, Suitbert Mollinger felt the calling of the priesthood. He gave up his successful career to attend a seminary in Ghent Belgium. In 1854 he traveled to St. Vincent’s in Latrobe where he became ordained as a priest. Over the years, he established parishes and continued to help the people he longed to serve. In 1880 he began the work of building the beautiful chapel of St. Anthony’s on Troy Hill. He never stopped collecting the relics which became the cornerstone of the chapel. He received a great many relics as gifts and they were sent to him for safekeeping. His collection grew and grew. The chapel would provide a safe house for these articles of faith.
Within this church there are over 5000 relics that are categorized, labeled and stored for the ages. I am told that there are at least four splinters from the one true cross of Jesus, as well as a thorn from Jesus’s crown of thorns. They have a piece of stone from the Sepulchre that contained Jesus’s remains.
Father Mollinger also acquired near lifelike carvings of the Stations of the Cross. These are nothing short of carved masterpieces. They overwhelm with their power. You are drawn to them.
Now, all of us are not Catholic and you don’t have to be to enjoy, but this place belongs to us. The church stands as a permanent part of Pittsburgh. The power of it presence speaks for itself. Whether or not you are Catholic this place stands a something magical.