Onion Dome Fever: St. Mary’s Russian Orthodox Church

St. Mary's Russian Orthodox Church, McKeesport, Pa.

St. Mary’s Russian Orthodox Church, McKeesport

It was a bleak late February day when Orbit cub reporter Tim and I set out in the slush for McKeesport. We were tracking big game: one muffler man and a couple onion domes.  And bag them we did. Oh yes, bag them we did. But so much more, too: fish and trains and saints and steps and one Magic Palace. More about all that (hopefully) in the weeks to come.

But for now, let’s get to the task at hand: the beautiful St. Mary’s Russian Orthodox Church. Located on a side street, a couple blocks off the main drag from McKeesport’s downtown, St. Mary’s looks nothing like the landscape that surrounds it.  It also looks not particularly like the other Eastern Orthodox churches we’ve seen on this beat: more modern, white-bricked, with glowing blue domes (you’ll have to take my word on that one, or see video at bottom).

If this blogger wants to hit the big time he’s going to have to remember to bring his reporter’s notebook and write down some facts, so I don’t have a date on when St. Mary’s was built.  That said, it feels very between-the-wars: sleek and stylish, its curves more suggestive, its lines part old world, part deco.

I don’t know if it’s worth a trip to McKeesport just to see St. Mary’s–that’s what the Orbit is here for!–but definitely do stop by if you’re out that way.  And if you do, let me know what it says on the cornerstone.

St. Mary's Russian Orthodox Church, McKeesport, Pa.

McKeesport skyline with St. Mary’s

St. Mary's Russian Orthodox Church, McKeesport, Pa.

“Tim: get out of my shot!”

Bonus footage!  Video of St. Mary’s new dome getting installed in 1998:

Onion Dome Fever: Rocks Bottoms Orthodox

St. Nicholas Orthodox Church

St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, McKees Rocks

Growing up in the South, we had plenty of churches, but they tended to be Baptist, Methodist, and A.M.E.  They worshipped in unremarkable generic brick buildings, scaled-down budget classics, old wooden country churches, and occasionally unfortunate modern takes that would make even the most pious consider a life of sin.

There were a handful of Catholics in every decent-sized town, but they weren’t the wine-swilling, cigar-chomping, fish-frying variety that exist in the North.  One of my earliest new-to-Pittsburgh memories was going to a church carnival in my neighborhood where the fund-raising priest hosted a cash-on-the-table spinning wheel gambling game where the prizes were all bottom shelf liquor.  That just doesn’t go on in Appalachian Virginia.

Around Pittsburgh, there are dozens of amazing Eastern Orthodox churches with an architecture that still strikes me as otherworldly.  Byzantine crosses and elaborate stained glass.  Gold-leafed tableaus and, above all (literally), glorious (usually) gold-painted onion domes that routinely mark the skylines of otherwise humble brick factory towns and glow on gray and rainy days.

Here’s a first post wherein we honor the amazing church architecture in Pittsburgh.  The small neighborhood of “The Bottoms” in McKees Rocks boasts at least three different Eastern Orthodox churches, each with their own interesting features.  Let’s start with St. Nicholas.

Statue at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church


Statue at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church

Angel (detail)

Statue at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church

Angel with power lines

St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in silhouette

St. Nicholas silhouette