Greetings from Pittsburgh

The Project doesn't generally feature non-Philly content, but the following letter was too good to pass up. Written by someone simply called "super blue," it calls our attention to the unsightly fate of one of Pittsburgh's better churches, Sts. Peter and Paul.

(The same church, coincidentally, that was featured in the irreverent Ben Affleck / Matt Damon film "Dogma." The Project, naturally, is a fan.)

From the letter:

Dear "The Project" ;)

Yes, this church is the Church of Sts Peter and Paul and is in the East Liberties section of Pittsburgh. It was once a German Roman Catholic church and has it's roots going as far back as 1857 with the St. Philomena parish. This parish outgrew it's church and the cornerstone for St's Peter and Paul was laid in 1890. In 1909 the interiors and the roof of the church was ravaged by fire and they rebuilt it again, still using the remains of the previous church (exteriors, the twin spires). The version you see here was completed in 1910.

It remained an active Roman Catholic church until 1992 when, due to closing of the steel mills and resulting population exodus, the diocese consolidated with 5 other ethnic parishes that it no longer could sustain and created the St. Charles Lwanga parish. Sts Peter and Paul then closed and then was later sold to a protestant minister/congregation.

In 1999 it was featured in the Kevin Smith/Matt Damon/Ben Afleck movie, "Dogma".

From here on out the Church has taken a very tragic direction.

Within a few very short months after the film came out, the church was broken into and robbed. They took many altar fixtures, all the pews, some lighting, broke some of the irreplaceable stained glass windows and even took part of the pipe organ (which, I had been told by the minister was among the largest in the Pitttsburgh area). This ransacking devastated the church and the minister's hopes on rebuilding this parish. They held a fundraiser and raised a significant amount of money which they immediately put back into the church, but to add insult to injury, they were robbed a *second* time and this time it put them in the red. As many of the items stolen were on loan to the church and were used as part of the fundraiser. This prompted the church to install and activate a security system.

Since then the restoration process has been slow and raising the funds much more difficult and the church itself has been deteriorating in every way. There is a fair amount of structural damage that can be seen both on the exterior and the interior. Even with a healthy restoration project going, I fear that it might be too late for this magnificent building.

The stained glass in this church is still mostly intact and is incredibly beautiful.....without a doubt irreplaceable, and i'm not sure why it was never transferred to another church when it was closed. The pipe organ itself is one of a kind, with the console and most of the structure still there. It also needs a major restoration, but that can be upwards of $20k.

In addition to the church, there is also a rectory (beautiful) and a large school building as well. They attempted to use the school building to set up a Charter School, but for some reason was met with community resistance and the minister believes this resistance has hampered his restoration attempts with the church as well.

I have cultivated a bit of a relationship with the minister and it's caretaker that has allowed me to visit the church (I do hope to go back soon), but i've found that the minister VERY much likes to refer to Sts Peter and Paul as a "Cathedral". He does get offended when you do not ;)

Super Blue was even kind enough to forward some photos:

Very, very nice building. Gothic, columned, cruciform. Definite Germanic / ethnic overtones--it certainly wouldn't be out of place on Church Alley. And some of the ornamentation, like the tiles in arches, reminds me a little of Transfiguration of Our Lord or Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament.

But yeah, that's a lot of damage. Hopefully the restoration efforts can give the place some semblance of salvation. The fact that the stained-glass windows are somehow still intact is a miracle in and of itself, and gives me great hope that the rest can be repaired. Windows are the most fragile part of a church, after all. If they can survive, so can the rest of it.