Thursday, November 22, 2012

Two Kinds of Relics - Pittsburgh, PA

Even with all of the shows I had lined up for Pittsburgh, I still hoped there would be time for one or two other outings of the non-theatrical variety.  The one that intrigued me the most was no sure thing because of the hours of operation.  Luckily, one day we finished a little early so my customer could attend a meeting so I set off for St. Anthony's.

St. Anthony's offers tours of the original chapel.  Their claim to fame is that they are in possession of the most Catholic relics outside of the Vatican.  See why I am intrigued?  A church in Pittsburgh is the holder of the second most Catholic relics?  Really? 

Because the guide apparently assumes anyone taking this tour must be Catholic and talks to you as if you obviously are, I was at a slight disadvantage during the tour as I am not.  For a while I thought I was going to be the only one on the tour - Catholic or otherwise - because the guide began her speech while I was the only one there.  She even started late after asking me if it was okay so that she could attend to some workers doing maintenance in another building.  She had been talking about 10 minutes when 3 other women and a nun came in hoping to participate.  So she waited for them to come in and do their gestures and get seated so she could start again.

Luckily, she did explain early on what a Catholic relic is.  I thought this would be things like crosses and books (I am confusing relic with antique) but learn that it actually includes things like clothing and body parts.  There are different degrees of relics - 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree - and it all depends on what it is and who it belonged to or who/what it may have touched.

All of those cases in the cabinet are requilaries, a container for a relic.  St. Anthony's boasts more than 5,000 individual relics.  The two on the top row right side where it curves contain the forearm bones of a saint.  Under the back alter you can see a small gold trunk which is actually a sarcophagus containing the full skeletal remains of a saint.

Some requilaries are large and ornate, some are tiny.  Those items that look like charms pinned around the case above are all requilaries.  Some contain a drop of blood, a piece of human tissue, a tooth or a single strand of hair.

I had a really hard time understanding why anyone would feel it necessary to save a single strand of hair to put in a gold case in a church until I was reminded that one of my coworkers has a lock of my hair in a ziplock bag in his desk.  I left it as a joke after he complained about my plans to cut my hair short.  That was something like 6 years ago and he still has it in the original baggie, the Noelle relic I guess.  It might be why the people we hire that are required to share an office with him don't last long.  It is a little creepy.  

This church is really beautiful inside (I found the outside pretty unremarkable) and our guide explains about the restoration effort and about the priest who had the original chapel built and who began acquiring the relics whenever and wherever he could.

Along the side walls in the extension built on to the back of the original chapel, there are statues representing the Stations of the Cross.  These life-size figures are carved completely out of wood.

I stay quiet throughout the tour when the guide asks questions because I don't want to say anything stupid and after my experience in Chicago at Late Night Catechism I already know I don't know a lot about what Catholics believe and why.

Here at the statue of St. Anthony she asks if anyone has a favorite saint and two of the ladies respond with Rita.  I don't know who that is and I don't say mine is Joan of Arc because I might give myself away as the only non-Catholic on this tour.  (A Catholic friend once told me that "real Catholics" don't really put much stock in saints like Joan of Arc and that some don't even recognize her as a true saint.  Whatever the case, she is listed on - I checked - and I still think she is a fascinating historical figure if nothing else.)

The priest of St. Anthony's, Father Mollinger, was known as the Healing Priest and it is said that there would be more than 10,000 people here at the service for St. Antony's feast day on June 13, hoping to be healed. 

At one time there were crutches, wheelchairs, eyeglasses, braces and other things stacked all around St. Antony's statue.  These were removed and a few are on display across the street in the gift shop.

The gift shop is pretty small and compared to the one I went to in St. John, Indiana, it is unimpressive.  I was somewhat tempted to buy some Holy Water.

I confess though I don't know the etiquette or use of this.  Do you drink it?  Splash it on people who need it?  I decide I might not be qualified to be in possession of this.

Is there a difference between Holy Water and Blessed Water?  There is a reason I need to know.

I might be able to save my $1.75 if I have an empty water bottle or jelly jar handy.

On the subject of money, they request you make a donation for the tour of St. Anthony.  Depending on the sign you read this would be between $3 and $5. 

I left $10.  The problem is, I did this when I thought no one else was going to arrive and while the guide was attending to the workers.  NO ONE SAW ME!  When the guide asks us to leave a donation at the end of the tour I feel very conspicuous as the only one not getting out her wallet.  

My second Relic outing was to ride one of the two "inclines" that serve downtown Pittsburgh.  These are essentially trolley cars that go up the side of a hill.  Once upon a time they took workers from the neighborhood at the top down to the city.  Today, they still serve the same purpose but are also a tourist attraction.  There are two inclines about 1 mile apart - the Monongahela and the Duquense.

I ride the Monongahela. I am at the bottom here (obviously) after having ridden down from the top.  You can see the car about halfway up returning to the top.  The inside of the car is pretty small, it might carry 20 people packed pretty tight.  It was hot (to me) on this day and there is no air movement and certainly no air conditioning.  I was happy to reach the bottom and get out.

Near the bottom you will find a shopping and restaurant district.

Where I bought these blinged-out sunglasses.  I was planning to give them to my daughter but they are very comfortable and I have a hard time finding sunglasses I like.  So I kept them.  My friend Carla says they are NOT me.  That makes me want to keep them all the more.

The car going down.  Views up here are pretty spectacular.

Downtown Pittsburgh

One week after returning home I went to look something up on the Internet and there was a breaking story of a hostage situation in Downtown Pittsburgh.  I clicked to read the story and was shocked to see my client's address as the location of the standoff!  One week earlier and I would have been there.  I obsessed about this fact for a few days.  The man ultimately surrendered later the same day and no one was injured.

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