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