Western Pennsylvania has a lot of abandoned, converted, and sold churches.  They were built during the boom years and, with the ecconomic crunch and shifting demographics, these stately (and sometimes ugly-modern) temples are closing and being sold. I want to comment of some of them.   We will begin with the most perfectly abandoned church I’ve come across, St. Michael.  

I passed by Elizabeth on my way to work in Pittsburgh this morning, and I stopped by to find the local church in hopes that, some morning, I might make it to mass.

High above the Monongahelia flats sits (stands? rises? looms?) St. Michael and its school.  The building brick buildign was delapidated, the statue of St. Michael comming apart in sheets of agragate.  I parked alongside  and peered in through the glass “Welcoming Doors” (ugh) to see the place.

What I saw was the most perfectly weird thing I have yet seen in terms of “abandoned” churches.  The interior had obviously not been used in some time.  The fallen plaster and raised flooring were indicative of severe water damage, and the cobwebs and dust showed disuse.  The really weird thing, though, is that, in spite of being shuttered and barred, with the county’s “padlocks” (here in the form of those plastic ties) on the doors, the church was set up for mass.

The statues, candles, altar linens, altar mic, missal and stand, tabernacle and veil, and even the music issues in the pews, though rotten, were all there.  I started thinking about those last man on earth scenarios. It was like the congregation had left after mass one sunday, the church was locked, and then they were all killed by aliens or a super virus and here I was, the blithe wanderer, happening upon the strange scene and left to wonder what happened.

I started to wonder how long it had been since the church was locked.  It looked like it had been years.  I started to think to myself  “It couldn’t have been that long!  It must have been some kind of really bad flooding that did all this!  But, on top of a bluff?”  I tried to look for solid clues.  All of the candles had bent, due, I suppoesed, to temperature changes and gravity, meaning that the damage must have been left to stand for some time.  Near the door, but bent at an odd angle, was a paschle candle.  I figured if I could get the date off of it, I would know when this sad time capsule had been sealed.  It was bend over and away, and all I could pick up was a 1 above and 8, meaning 198-.

The church had been left as it was the day it closed for about twenty years?!?!?

I went over the school (which was open, oddly) to get some answers.  It turns out I was wrong.  The church had been closed for exactly twenty years!  It was condemed by the county in 1987 and was shuttered by the Diocese of Pittsburgh.  It had not, according to the lady at the school, been used in that time, and she did not know why the church’s accoucherments were left to rot.

Curious (and a little upset) I called the pastor.  He said that he did not know precisley why the church had been condemed, and that leaving the furnishings in the church was a question for the Diocese, as they were now the sole custodians of the property.

I am going to ask the Diocese why a church full of holy statues, blessed pictures and candles, etc., is being left to rot with its contents.  I am also going to get some