Arts & Entertainment

New Attention for Some of Pittsburgh's Best Kept Historical Secrets

One contains little-seen masterpieces by a political radical, another a thorn said to be from Christ's crucifixion crown.

When you're thinking of great places to visit, historic churches may not be top on your list. But the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh is hoping to change that.

The Diocese has created a new "Shrines of Pittsburgh" grouping of churches that include one with the second largest collection of relics in the world outside of the Vatican, and another with some of the most controversial religious murals ever painted.

Previous story : Unique Pittsburgh Churches You've Gotta See Inside

Among the new grouping there's even a church were you can climb, on your knees, a replica of the holy stairs Jesus climbed before he was condemned to death -- one of only two such replicas in the United States.

All 5 shrines are fairly close together and would be easy to tour as a group with a little planning:

  • Immaculate Heart of Mary Church (Polish Hill) , a prime example of "Polish Cathedral" architecture, which is modeled after Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome (pictured below, decked out for Christmas)
  • Saint Anthony Chapel (Troy Hill) , the church that contains the world's largest collection of relics after the Vatican and the largest collection of relics available for public veneration, including a thorn said to be from Christ's crucifixion crown
  • Saint Patrick Church (Strip District) , which contains one of the few replicas of the Holy Stairs that Jesus ascended to be judged by Pontius Pilate before he was crucified. The only other two replicas in the U.S. are in Michigan
  • Saint Stanislaus Kostka Church (Strip District) , one of the earliest Polish communities in the United States, was visited in 1969 by Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who became Pope Saint John Paul II
  • Saint Nicholas Church (Millvale) , which houses the one-of-a-kind murals of Maxo Vanka. The murals, politically controversial at the time, depict the immigration of Croatian peasants to the United States, Vanka's expression of the futility of war and his sadness at the destruction of Europe during World War II

Immaculate Heart of Mary is patterned after St. Peter's Basillica.

Pittsburgh Bishop Donald Zubik says the Diocese hopes the grouping will "promote these shrines as "places of pilgrimage and spiritual renewal for people throughout the diocese and even across the country.

The designation likely means the shrines likely will be open longer and have more Masses and opportunities to visit. Some of them already have special masses and tours (that's St. Nicholas above). Click on the links below to find out more:

St. Anthony Chapel website

The Society to Preserve the Millvale Murals of Maxo Vanka website

Vanka Society Facebook Page

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