The congregation was founded in 1775 by John McMillan; this building was put up in 1840. These pictures were taken with an Argus C3 in 1999. Three years later, while renovation work was in progress, the whole tower end collapsed.
The lens on Father Pitt’s old C3 didn’t like being pointed toward the sun, so we have a bit of glare in this picture; but it does show us the old front before it collapsed. It was replaced with a new front, somewhat different but in sympathy with the building, as we see in this picture from 2015.
The elaborately carved reredos does its part to focus attention on the altar before it. The four wooden figures are Peter and John on the left, Paul and James the Greater on the right. The carving was done by the Irving & Casson—A. H. Davenport Co. of Boston
St. James Church was a Catholic parish that closed in 2004. For a while, when the West End was unsuccessfully vying with Lawrenceville to become the next artsy-trendy neighborhood, the building was an art gallery; then, in 2015, it reopened as “St. James Roman Catholic Church.” The slightly ostentatious adoption of the title “Roman Catholic” might suggest to the initiated that this is not a church in the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. It belongs to a congregation of the Society of St. Pius X, the followers of Archbishop Lefebvre, who repudiate Vatican II and all its works and all its pomps.
The building was put up in 1884 for a congregation founded thirty years earlier; old Pa Pitt has not been able to determine who the architect was. (The name is not mentioned in the centennial book the congregation published in 1954.) Neighbors in the West End are delighted to have the church building well taken care of.
But let my due feet never fail To walk the studious cloister’s pale, And love the high embowed roof, With antique pillars massy proof, And storied windows richly dight, Casting a dim religious light. There let the pealing organ blow, To the full-voic’d quire below, In service high, and anthems clear, As may with sweetness, through mine ear, Dissolve me into ecstasies, And bring all Heav’n before mine eyes.
It is difficult to convey in a photograph the impression we get from entering a glorious Gothic church like Heinz Chapel. In general photographs are too light, either because the photographers laudably attempted to capture the many artistic details of the Gothic interior, or because they used automatic exposure and let their cameras do the thinking. Old Pa Pitt has tried very hard in these pictures to give some impression of the relative lighting as we enter the chapel from the bright light outside. Most of the light is dim, but a pool of light shines in the distance, drawing us toward the altar.
No matter how bright it may be outside, turning to leave the church is walking away from the light.
Smallman Street in the Strip changes over time, but it keeps its traditional link with the food business. The Strip became the wholesale-food district because the Pennsylvania Railroad unloaded the culinary treasures of the earth here. Today those treasures arrive mostly by truck.
The glory of Smallman Street is the broad plaza from 16th to 21st Streets, leading to St. Stanislaus Kostka, the mother church of Polish Catholicism in Pittsburgh, and one of Frederick Sauer’s most distinguished works.
One of three fine Gothic churches in a row, this one is actually in Dormont—but not by much. The Mount Lebanon border runs down Scott Road to the right of the building, then jogs behind the building to take in the St. Clair Cemetery.