"It's like stepping into Europe," said Carole Brueckner, director of St. Anthony's Chapel and one of its several tour guides. "People walk inside the front door and just gasp."
What causes them to inhale Pittsburgh air are the floor-to-ceiling displays of holy relics, the bodily remains, possessions, and incidentals of Jesus, Mary, and a long list of apostles, martyrs, and saintly confessors, widows, monks, penitents, hermits, and virgins. The exact number is "a little over 5,000" said Carole, and they're displayed in over 800 gold and jewel-encrusted reliquaries.
The saintly remains are here and not in the Vatican -- which preserves the largest private collection of Catholic relics in the world -- thanks to 19th century European political upheaval, and Father Suitbert Godfrey Mollinger.
Father Mollinger was the pastor of Most Holy Name Parish, an inconsequential congregation in what was then the boondocks north of Pittsburgh. He also turned out to be the greatest collector of Catholic relics in history. Born and raised in Belgium, from a wealthy noble family, he had credibility, connections, and money -- and he used them to acquire thousands of relics from churches and monasteries in the politically chaotic Europe of the mid-1800s. "He rescued them," said Carole of the relics. "Most of them would have been destroyed."
Wanting to share his collection with his sleepy American parish, Father Mollinger spent his inheritance to build the chapel in 1883. Nine years later he again tapped his bank account to more-than-double the size of the chapel, to display eerily lifelike statues of the Stations of the Cross, carved in Germany, which were also paid for by Father Mollinger.
Two days after the grand opening of the chapel, he died.
Father Mollinger's demise was a blow to the tens of thousands of sick people who annually made pilgrimages to the chapel in hope of a cure, either from venerating a particular relic, receiving a blessing from Father Mollinger, or ingesting one of his patent medicines. A small museum above the chapel gift shop displays crutches, canes, and blackened eyeglasses left behind by the faithful who claimed to no longer need them.
According to roadsideamerica.com