The Only Relic Collection That Rivals The Vatican Is In Pittsburgh

By Heather Ramsey on Thursday, May 21, 2015
SaintAnthony'sChapelBonesofSaints
“In the relics of the saints the Lord Christ has provided us with saving fountains which in many ways pour out benefactions and gush with fragrant ointment. And let no one disbelieve.” —St. John of Damascus

In A Nutshell

Except for the Vatican, St. Anthony’s Chapel in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has the largest collection of sacred relics of the Catholic Church. On the outside, it’s a small chapel that blends into the drab, working-class neighborhood surrounding it. But inside, there are over 5,000 relics, most of which are first or second class, meaning they were the body parts or possessions of saints. The collection was amassed by Father Suitbert Godfrey Mollinger, popularly known in the late 1800s as the “healing priest,” who practiced a combination of faith healing and medicine. Neither St. Anthony’s nor Father Mollinger is well known today.

Note: Pictured above are two bones of saints, a relic held in St. Anthony’s Chapel.

The Whole Bushel

Except for the Vatican, St. Anthony’s Chapel in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has the largest collection of sacred relics of the Catholic Church. On the outside, it’s a small chapel that blends into the drab, working-class neighborhood of Troy Hill that surrounds it. But inside, there are over 5,000 relics, most of which are first or second class, meaning they were the body parts or possessions of saints.

To early Christians, relics were important because they were believed to possess the holiness of the persons to whom they once belonged. The faithful can receive supernatural graces by being near a relic. “So early Christians worshiped in the presence of relics,” explained Donna Spivey Ellington, an authority on relics. “That is the reason that relics are placed in altars. It’s why they worshiped in catacombs. It wasn’t to get away from persecution, but because that was where the saints were buried. We are to worship with the saints and martyrs in order to have the sense of heaven on earth.”

In St. Anthony’s, some of the popular relics include bone fragments from the apostles, threads from the veil of the Virgin Mary, and 22 splinters from the wooden cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified. Even so, very few people are aware of the collection or its significance.

The collection was amassed by Father Suitbert Godfrey Mollinger, popularly known in the late 1800s as the “healing priest,” who practiced a combination of faith healing and medicine. Born into a rich family in Belgium, Mollinger went to medical school in Italy before studying theology in Belgium. In 1868, he arrived in Troy Hill as a missionary and became the pastor of Troy Hill’s Most Holy Name of Jesus parish.

In the US in the late 1800s, Mollinger became known for medical miracles. He treated poor patients for free in Pittsburgh and sometimes gave them medicines he mixed himself. Other times, he would practice faith healing, which didn’t make him popular with other priests in the region. A trolley line to Troy Hill was so packed with the sick and handicapped that it was called “The Ambulance.” Troy Hill itself was once called the “Mecca of Invalids.” However, the Church won’t comment on whether Mollinger actually performed any miracle healings. “We can say that many healings did occur here, whether it was due to the medicine, the prayer, or the relics in the chapel,” said Carole Brueckner of the Most Holy Name of Jesus parish. “But, as Catholics we believe that all healing comes from God.”

At the same time as he practiced faith healing, Mollinger used his personal fortune to buy thousands of authenticated relics in Europe that were in danger of being destroyed by anti-Catholic forces in Italy and Germany. He later founded St. Anthony’s Chapel to hold the relics he had collected. Mollinger died in 1892.

Neither St. Anthony’s Chapel nor Father Mollinger is well known today.

Show Me The Proof

Featured image credit: Lee Paxton
Roads & Kingdoms: The Holy Bones of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: The healing priest & St. Anthony’s Chapel in Troy Hill holds heavenly artifacts
Saint Anthony’s Chapel: Relics