Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Saturday 31 July |
Saint of the Day: St. Ignatius Loyola
home iconTravel
line break icon

This chapel in Pittsburgh is home to 5,000 relics


Perrant | CC BY 3.0

V. M. Traverso - published on 03/19/18

That's the largest collection outside of the Vatican.

St. Anthony Chapel, a Romanesque-style church located in the Troy Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was founded by Father Suitbert Mollinger, a Belgian-born missionary and priest, in 1880.

The son of a wealthy family, Mollinger used his inheritance to build St. Anthony’s as a place of worship that could host his growing collection of thousands of relics, which would come to be the largest collection of sacred relics outside the Vatican.

Before coming to the U.S., where he was ordained a priest in 1857, Mollinger had lived in Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy, where he studied medicine at the Universities of Rome and Genoa. After receiving the call to priesthood, he left Europe to become a missionary in the United States, eventually settling in Pittsburgh, where he founded a school and convent.

At this time, Mollinger’s relic collection grew due to the rise of nationalism in Europe during the 19th century and the resulting clashes with the Catholic Church in Germany and Italy. Land disputes  between the new Italian state and the Papal state led to the destruction of many monasteries. Relics would often get lost or stolen, so Mollinger tried to acquire some in order to preserve them.

In Germany, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck’s “Kulturkampf,” or “culture struggle,” called for state intervention over education — which at the time was mostly provided by the Church — and ecclesiastical appointments. The Church resisted, and some bishops and priests were arrested and forced to leave the country. Many thought that relics were in danger and thus attempted to send them to safer locations.

The chapel at Troy Hill became one such “relic sanctuary.” It is estimated that between 1868 and 1892, 800 cases containing 5,000 relics were transported from Europe to the newly built St. Anthony Chapel, whose entrance archway bears the inscription: “The bodies of the saints rest here in peace.”

Among the chapel’s relics are the skull of St. Theodore, the complete skeletal remains of St. Demetrius, a piece of the shroud of Jesus, a tooth of the chapel’s patron, St. Anthony of Padua, and particles of the True Cross of Christ.

But the relics were not the only reason why Mollinger became such a beloved figure for Catholics in Pittsburgh and from all over the country.. He was also known as a miraculous healer who used his spiritual gifts and his medical training to treat over a 100 patients each day. In a clinic inside the rectory he would treat patients and then bless them with one of the chapel’s sacred relics.

Every year, tens of thousands of pilgrims would flock to Pittsburgh from across North America to attend the Feast of St. Anthony of Padua, during which the bearded priest would preside over his famous healing service. A small museum of artifacts pertaining to Mollinger’s life includes a collection of crutches canes, and eyeglasses, abandoned by those who claimed to have been cured. His legacy still endures today and is symbolized by the towering granite monument built in his honor on top of the hill of the parish cemetery in Reserve Township, Pennsylvania.

Church History
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Cerith Gardiner
Gold-winning Filipina Olympian shares her Miraculous Medal for th...
Cerith Gardiner
Simone Biles leaves the Olympics with an important lesson for her...
Mathilde De Robien
Did you know Princess Di was buried with a rosary?
Zelda Caldwell
World-record winning gymnast Simone Biles leans on her Catholic f...
Theresa Civantos Barber
The one thing we all should do before this summer ends
Zelda Caldwell
German women’s gymnastics teams modest dress protests sport’s ...
Lauren Daigle
J-P Mauro
After 3 years Lauren Daigle ousts herself from #1 Billboard spot
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.