Sunday, June 17, 2007

St. Anthony's Chapel, Troy Hill, PA.

Every once in awhile it's refreshing to pretend to be a tourist in your hometown. Inevitably there are things going on in the city that rarely cross your mind. It's easy to tell yourself, whenever the attraction lasts several months to a year, that someday soon you'll make the time to pay a visit. But then things come and go, and you realize a week or a month after it's gone that you've simply missed out. When these destinations are "permanent" there is even more of a chance that you will neglect them.

For years I've been telling myself that I'm going to take a trip over to St. Anthony's Chapel in the Troy Hill section of Pittsburgh. A few years ago a group of my friends and I tried to stop by on Easter Sunday. But it was closed to the public that day. We laughed at the irony, and resolved to return again in a few weeks. We never did. Why did we want to see St. Anthony's, anyway? Well... it houses the largest collection of saint's relics in the United States. A man named Father Suitbert Mollinger began acquiring these holy objects in the 1800's, and built the chapel to house them between 1880 and 1883. As their brochure points out- "Over five thousand relics of the saints have reposed peacefully in the chapel for over a hundred years."

The most revered relic in the Chapel is from St. Anthony of Padua. Unfortunately, I don't know what it actually consists of. And since I didn't take the tour, there was no real way to figure it out. Is it a tooth, a femur, a gallstone, or what? There are literally hundreds of sacred containers labeled only in Latin. Where's the the "splinter of the True Cross" (yeah... that one)? Where is the thorn from the Crown of Thorns (uh-huh... you got it)? Where's that piece of stone from the Holy Sepulchre (and just what the heck is a "Sepulchre")? Indeed, other than the top of some unfortunate's skull- many of the actual relics are completely unidentifiable. Yet despite the overwhelming presentation, it's certainly an impressive assemblage.

But one might ask, "How is one to know whether all (or any) of these relics are authentic? Apparently there are documents of authenticity for every last one of them. They are "retained with security provisions by the parish" (so says our friendly brochure). The ambiguity of that assertion is puzzling. Imagine the hellfire and damnation that a theoretical burglar would face if attempting such a heist. Evidently the church caretakers are not confining their preventive measures to heavenly methods. I guess that keeping the artifacts and their accompanying papers in different locations is prudent. Because really... who is going to believe that inner cheek swab originally belonged to St. Francis of Assisi? How are you going to convince the aficionado that the wart scraping at the center of that gilded cross once grew on St. Bartholemew's thumb? It reminds me of the freaky girl in Linklater's Slacker- buzzing around and accosting strangers on the street in order to sell Madonna's pap smear. And shit... that Madonna is still alive.

After you've had a chance to check out the biggest church trophy case in this hemisphere, take a look at the large wooden sculptures representing the "Stations of the Cross". They were made by artists at the Royal Ecclesiastical Art Establishment of Mayer and Company in Munich. And there's plenty of stained glass to look at too. There's even a gift shop. We chose not to stop by, assuming that the good stuff was not for sale. I did notice an advertisement for a picture book of the "Stations" sculptures ($5). That sign was next to another one warning the pilgrim not to take any photographs in the chapel. Since getting some photos was my main reason for coming, I was pretty disappointed. Why are these religious groups so damned proprietary about their treasures? You'd think they'd want to spread the word in any way possible. But since they've cornered this particular market, I guess they can call the shots.

In any case, it is still worth stopping by (it's open to the public on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 1-4 PM) . It's an amazing place and a true 'Burgh diamond-in-the-rough. The one piece of advice I'd suggest to the curators- get a more appropriate container for the "Blessed Water". It's sitting there in an oversized plastic jug that makes me think that a rogue gang of monks is going to sieze it and tip it over the head of the Holy Father, in celebration of some celestial victory. That's just not right.

1 comment:

Luconauts said...

I believe the relic is a tooth.
A family discussion touched on St Anthony's chapel.

apparently, the rest of St Anthony of Padua is intact save for this one tooth