Tag: Byzantine Architecture

  • Holy Virgin Russian Orthodox Church, Carnegie

    Onion domes

    These deep-blue onion domes are one of the distinctive features of the Carnegie skyline as motorists see it from the Parkway West. This Russian church, originally known in English as St. Mary’s (according to the cornerstone), sits right next to the Ukrainian Orthodox church by Titus de Bobula; it was built in 1920, about fourteen years after the Ukrainian church. Though Holy Virgin is not so extravagantly eccentric, it holds up well against its neighbor; and the two of them together form a memorable composition that makes us wonder for a moment what continent we landed on.

    Front of Holy Virgin Church
    Perspective view
    Onion domes
  • St. Mary’s Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, McKees Rocks Bottoms

    St. Mary’s Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, McKees Rocks Bottoms

    Now St. Mary Ukrainian Orthodox Parish. The history of Catholic and Orthodox Ukrainian Christians in the United States is complicated, and old Pa Pitt will not attempt to sort it out here. It ends with double Ukrainian churches in many neighborhoods, and that is the case here: there is a more recent Ukrainian Catholic church around the corner from this one.

    This impressive building was designed by Carlton Strong (whose full name was Thomas Willet Carlton Strong, and no wonder he usually shaved off half of it). Strong’s most famous work was the magnificently Gothic Sacred Heart in Shadyside, but he adapts very well to the Byzantine style here and gives the Bottoms a distinctive addition to its skyline.

    Cornerstone dated 1922
    Front elevation
    From the rear

    The rectory is in a different style; it is certainly one of the most splendid houses in the Bottoms.

    Rear of the rectory, with fence in Ukrainian-flag colors

    The fence behind the rectory has recently been repainted in a patriotic color scheme.

    Church and rectory

    Carlton Strong, incidentally, came to Pittsburgh as a designer of apartment buildings, giving us the Bellefield Dwellings as his first work here. He later converted to the Catholic faith and became one of our most prominent church architects. You can read a good biography of Carlton Strong by the distinguished local historian Kathleen M. Washy on line:

    Designing in God’s Name: Architect Carlton Strong

  • St. John’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, McKees Rocks Bottoms

    St. John’s Ukrainian Catholic Church

    Built in 1960, this church adopted a radically simplified Byzantine architecture. It is much smaller than its Ukrainian Orthodox (formerly Ukrainian Greek Catholic) neighbor St. Mary’s around the corner, but both congregations continue to inhabit the same neighborhood without throwing bricks at each other.

    Perspective view
    Church and rectory

    The attached rectory is in an equally simple style; the pasted-on false shutters are an attempt to make it feel less institutional.

  • St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKees Rocks Bottoms

    St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church

    Now billing itself as just an “Orthodox” church, since the Russian Orthodox church in America became autocephalous in 1970 and has long included a broad spectrum of ethnicities. This church was built in 1914, and the architect was George W. King—a name that so far does not appear anywhere else on old Pa Pitt’s Great Big List of Buildings and Architects. “King” does not sound like a particularly Russian name, though Ellis Island could do funny things to people’s names. But he certainly seems to have captured the spirit of Russian church design, and these onion domes are one of the most distinctive features of the skyline of the Bottoms.

    Onion domes from the rear
    Front elevation
    Entrance and porch
    Round window
    Cornerstone dated 1914
    Perspective view from the south

    After the baroque elaboration of the church, the rectory seems almost ruthlessly plain. But it does its job well: it matches the church in materials, thus showing its association, but it directs all attention away from itself and toward the church, which seems theologically appropriate.

  • Holy Ghost Greek Catholic Church, McKees Rocks Bottoms

    Tower of Holy Ghost

    If you have ever come up the Ohio or across the McKees Rocks Bridge, chances are you have noticed this gold-domed tower rising from the McKees Rocks Bottoms. You would not have had time to appreciate the details, but appreciate them now. Just the tower is a remarkable piece of work. But the whole church is something extraordinary, and worth a visit to the Bottoms to see. Since the Bottoms is a neighborhood of surprising architectural riches, you will probably find yourself distracted by a dozen other wonders before you leave.

    Holy Ghost Greek Catholic Church

    Holy Ghost Greek (now Byzantine) Catholic Church is a startling outcropping of Art Nouveau in a neighborhood where we never expected to find it. The design was the work of McKees Rocks’ own John H. Phillips, as we know from the cornerstone.


    Here we have the date, the name of the architect, and the name of the contractor, along with the name of the pastor. There was one other church architect in Pittsburgh who routinely put his own name and the name of the contractor on cornerstones in florid Art Nouveau lettering, and that was Titus de Bobula. Looking at the style of this church, with its radical and constantly surprising Art Nouveau ornamentation, Father Pitt forms the hypothesis that Phillips knew of Titus de Bobula’s work and was strongly influenced by the eccentric Hungarian.

    Ornamental brickwork

    The corner cross picked out in bricks is wildly different from anything you have seen before. To the right of it we also see a variant of the square above a downward-pointing triangle that seems to have been a kind of signature for Phillips, appearing on at least three of the four buildings of his that Father Pitt has so far identified.

    From the rear

    The church behind the front is more conventional—which is also true of Titus de Bobula’s churches. Both de Bobula and Phillips relied on elaborate fronts to make their grand impression.


    Certainly this tower makes a strong impression. There is nothing else quite like it in Pittsburgh. The variation of detail in the bricks is remarkable. But the forms are harmonized very cleverly, with each level echoing shapes from the other two.

    Cornerstone from the other side

    Phillips also designed the Ukrainian National Home around the corner, and Father Pitt hopes to identify more buildings by him in McKees Rocks. He has joined Pittsburgh’s exclusive little club of early modernists, and old Pa Pitt is delighted to make his acquaintance.

  • St. John the Baptist Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church, Marshall-Shadeland

    St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church

    The congregation moved to a generic late-twentieth-century church building in the North Hills this year, finally following most of its members to the suburbs. (The congregation was secure enough to be able to move without taking out a loan, which is good news for them even if it’s bad news for the North Side.) That leaves this building in an uncertain state. Right now it is still being well maintained, but its neighborhood is not yet valuable. Perhaps with the revival of city living, it will be worth doing something with in the next few years.

    Cornerstone with a date of 1937

    The church was built in 1937, when the Depression was still with us and its congregation probably was not rich. The building is a curious construction in a style old Pa Pitt has decided to call “Modular Byzantine.” The parade of identical rectangles across the tall face of the church makes it look as though it was put together by a methodical and meticulous child playing with blocks.

    Corner view of the church, showing slope of lot

    Because of the extreme slope of the lot, the front has to be very tall if there is going to be any back at all. Since the main entrance is on the lower level, we can add this to our list of churches with the sanctuary upstairs.

    Dome with Byzantine cross

    The gold domes are a landmark on this section of California Avenue, and we hope they can be preserved.

  • Saint George Ukrainian Catholic Church, Brighton Heights

    St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church

    This is one of Father Pitt’s favorite modernist churches in the city. It seems like an effortless blending of architectural modernism with the ancient idioms of Eastern Christian tradition, but of course things in art that seem effortless always take a great deal of effort. If modernism in church design always came out looking like this, old Pa Pitt would have adopted it enthusiastically.

  • Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church, Homestead

    Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church, Homestead

    Many other Eastern churches have gilded or painted domes, but these domes are genuine made-in-Homestead stainless steel. Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church has its own Wikipedia article. It is a Ruthenian, or Rusyn, or Carpatho-Russian congregation that belongs to the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese, a group of Ruthenian churches that left the Roman Catholic Church because the American bishops refused to allow them to keep their Eastern Rite traditions, notably married clergy. (The problem was later addressed with a separate Ruthenian Greek Catholic hierarchy for North America—too late to prevent this particular split.) The building itself was begun in 1936, but, what with one thing and another, it was not completed until 1950.

    It was a day of sun and clouds, so we have pictures in very different lighting.

    In the sun
    From the north
  • Domes of St. John the Baptist

    These famous domes figure in many postcard views of Pittsburgh. There are actually two St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic churches on the South Side. This, the Ukrainian one, is the one everyone sees. The lesser-known one is on Jane Street near 18th; it belongs to a Ruthenian congregation that split from the larger St. John the Baptist to have its own liturgy in its own language.

    The picture above is a high-dynamic-range image made from three separate photographs at different exposures. Below, the church from across the Monongahela.

  • St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Church, South Side

    It is impossible to get a picture of the front of this church without ugly and intrusive utility cables, and old Pa Pitt is not quite obsessive enough to edit out the cables.

    This is a Ruthenian church. Back in 1900, the congregation split from the other St. John the Baptist Byzantine congregation a few blocks away at 7th and Carson Streets so as not to have to put up with those Ukrainians. You will search a map of Europe in vain for the nation of Ruthenia, but the Ruthenians or Rusyns in America have an ethnic pride perhaps all the stronger for never having had a nation of their own. The present building was dedicated in 1958, and the modernist-influenced Byzantine style bears a strong family resemblance to the style of St. George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral in Oakland.