St. Anthony's Chapel | Pittsburgh City Paper

St. Anthony's Chapel

Skulls. Teeth. Dried blood. An entire skeleton, each individual bone painstakingly wrapped in silk. Oh, and Mass every Tuesday, since all the body parts come from saints.

St. Anthony's Chapel, in Troy Hill, houses the world's largest collection of Catholic relics outside of the Vatican. The faithful, as well as curiosity-seekers, can take in the splendor of most of the 4,200 items, including 22 slivers of the True Cross, a piece from the table of the Last Supper and a sliver of Mary's veil.

Sister Margaret Liam Glenane, who's been at the chapel since 1991, says that all the relics are authentic, and that the chapel has documentation for each of them -- ranging from tiny slivers of bone and cloth to the entire skeleton of St. Demetrius -- "under lock and key."

Sister Margaret relates the story of a group of Pittsburgh tourists in Padua, Italy, who were viewing the skull of St. Anthony there. The tour guide said the skull was complete, save for a single tooth. One of the Pittsburghers piped up and told the guide it was in Troy Hill. Indeed, it sits beneath a full-size statue of the saint for whom the church is named.

The remarkable collection, which also includes life-size wood-sculpted Stations of the Cross, is the work of Father Suitbert G. Mollinger, a Belgian priest who founded the church in 1883. The son of a wealthy family, Father Mollinger sent scouts throughout Europe to collect relics during political and religious turmoil in the 1880s.

He brought them to Troy Hill and commissioned North Side artisans to build impressive walnut cabinets to display the relics, many of which are housed in ornate gold reliquaries. There are also a few liturgical calendars serving as reliquaries -- structures in the shape of churches, holding a relic and a saint's name for every day of the year. The skulls, wrapped in sheer linen, peek out unobtrusively from among the reliquaries.

Father Mollinger was a colorful character aside from his penchant for blessed bones. Before becoming a priest, he studied medicine and was regarded as a healer. In earlier days, St. Anthony's also had a huge collection of crutches, canes and bandages left behind by the healed. About a dozen crutches are still on display in the museum shop across the street. So too is an old patent medicine-style print ad from 1921 featuring the long-bearded priest's visage and touting "Father Mollinger's Famous Herb Tablets," for more worldly ailments such as "every condition due to constipation and sluggish liver."

St. Anthony's Chapel 1704 Harpster St., Troy Hill. Free (donations accepted). 412-323-9504