Our Lady of Seneca Street Shrine – Buffalo, NY
The story of a small religious shrine at the side of the road on Seneca Street in Buffalo
by Chris Clemens
What’s always been intriguing to me, is how humans assign a spiritual value to a particular geographical location.
The North American Martyrs Shrine in Auriesville is a place of pilgrimage for Catholics because of the events that took place there.
Each summer Mormons flock to the geographic origins of their beliefs in Palmyra.
It has always raised the question in my head of ‘How does a place become spiritual? How does one place become more so than another?’
This isn’t a philosophical blog, or one intended to stir the pot of surrounding spirituality. It’s really just to share with you all some really interesting places that I’ve encountered while exploring their history. Most of the places shared here are places where people go to engage with other like minded believers to solidify and practice their faith.
It’s safe to say that if you find a place to be important, and you connect with it, then it’s a spiritual place. But, that connection might be a private one, though the place itself is very public. For instance, how many people have passed this little shrine in Buffalo and wondered why it was there?
A Buffalo Barber Sees The Light
The City of Buffalo has seen its share of ups and downs. One of those down times was in the 1950’s. The Cold War was just a few years in and a lot of people were struggling to make ends meet. When things feel that heavy, it challenges your faith.
Joe Battaglia and his family lived at 849 Seneca Street in an apartment above the barbershop where Battaglia ensured the locals all looked their best–and more than likely, provided a place to discuss current events and sports.
One night Battaglia awoke in his sleep. Outside his bedroom window he found a shining image calling to him. When he went outside to inspect further, the image of the Virgin Mary became clearer to him. Mary told him not to be afraid, that she had a mission for him to spread the word of peace.
The Seneca Street Shrine
Battaglia wasted no time in starting, but took a year to finish building the tan brick, glass block entombed Virgin Mary that can be found at 847 Seneca Street.
He maintained the shrine for all who wished to pay homage.
Battaglia passed away sometime in the 1970’s, and the shrine began to slowly fall into a state of disrepair. Sometime during the 1980’s the City of Buffalo acquired the shrine and formed a plan to tear it down.
Locals living in the Hydraulics Neighborhood (Buffalo’s earliest industrialized section, dating back to the early 1800’s) fought for the preservation of the shrine, and ultimately won.
It was purchased and is now maintained by a few locals who are interested in continuing the legend that Battaglia built. The shrine’s insides are decorated with numerous photos and trinkets, and apparently on St. Patrick’s Day it’s decorated for the festivities as well.
The shrine has served as inspiration for the play “Lady of South Division Street” written by Tom Dudzick.
I swung by the shrine quick to check it out while we were in Buffalo looking at some other cool Catholic places and nabbed a couple photos. If you’re driving down Seneca Street and a small, tan brick shrine catches your eye, stop and say a quick prayer, and maybe a thanks to a local barber for following through on a vision to make the world a bit more peaceful.
This post previously appeared on ExploringTheBurnedOverDistrict.com
Chris Clemens is the Founder/Publisher of Exploring Upstate. From his hometown in Rochester, he spends as much time as possible connecting with the history, culture, and places that make Upstate New York a land of discovery. Follow him on Twitter at @cpclemens
January 28, 2013 @ 11:15 pm
This is another great piece of writing about something that very few people know about.
For this man to do what his vision led him to do, is something grand.
Not many people today would follow through on something like this.
And yes there are some people who do have the bathtub versions, but this is so much more.
I looked at the street and shrine on Google Earth.
What a neighborhood that must have been many years ago.
From the street view in Google, the two buildings on either side of the shrine, look like what Mr. Battaglia’s must have looked like. A little store front and living quarters in back or upstairs.
And then the brick building/house across the street from the shrine.
With all that brick-work, I wonder if there was some connection between that place and Mr. Battaglia.
Again, thank you guys for doing this and letting us all see what other people have known about and seen for years.
January 29, 2013 @ 9:53 am
Thanks Mike! Sorry your first comment didn’t make it to us, thanks for coming back and posting again. The sharing and feedback is appreciated!
June 27, 2013 @ 12:22 pm
The website for the Hydraulics neighborhood ends in .org NOT .com.
June 27, 2013 @ 1:01 pm
Great catch Nate. Thanks! I’ve updated the link.
August 15, 2013 @ 12:46 pm
I never knew the story of that shrine until now just reading your post. We would drive by it almost every Sunday on our way to my grandfathers house when he lived on Swan St. This was so long ago. I was just a little kid then, but remember seeing it as we drove by and always wondered what the story behind it was. Thank you for sharing it. It is inspiring.
August 15, 2013 @ 2:38 pm
What a great milestone on the ride to have a memory of! Glad you enjoyed reading this post Evelyn.
August 27, 2013 @ 9:09 am
That play you mention is now retitled, “Miracle on South Division Street” and, since its off-Broadway run, has garnered about 16 productions in theatres across the country, one of which just broke the box office record at Florida Repertory Theatre in Fort Myers. It will be playing at the Kavinoky Theatre in Buffalo in November of 2013. It will also be touring the provinces of Canada in the Spring of 2014.
August 27, 2013 @ 9:12 am
Awesome! Really glad to hear of the success of your work Tom. I’ll try to keep my eyes open for press on the upcoming show in Buffalo and share it to our Facebook page.
November 24, 2013 @ 4:57 pm
Say the show last night. It was great as are all of the plays I have seen from Mr. Dudzick! Inspired us to drive by the shrine on Seneca Street this morning . . .
November 17, 2013 @ 8:08 pm
My Great grandfather was Joe Battaglia. He passed before I was born, however one of his daughters is still alive.
I didn’t know of the play until today and I can’t wait to see it.
Although I never met my Great Grandfather, our family carries on traditions that he has passed on to us.
November 17, 2013 @ 8:10 pm
You have fantastic timing!! One of Joe’s granddaughters got in touch with us, and just provided me with a bunch of pamphlets and stories. I’m going to be doing an update to the post soon!!
Glad you found us here!
Richard j Perla
July 18, 2022 @ 4:47 pm
My grandfather was Rosario Battaglia, who died in 1917. His wife, Santa Cugino Battaglia was survived by him. Do you know if your great grandfather had a brother named Roario, He was from Valledolmo, Sicily and came to the USA around 1902.
My father married Grace Battaglia. My name is Richard Perla
June 16, 2014 @ 10:44 am
Great photos of the Our Lady of Seneca Street Shrine shrine! Could you please tell me how I might get permission to use one or two for my local Theatre, (see williamstontheatre.com) They are running the play in their 2014-15 season and I design their posters on a volunteer basis. Thank you,
October 6, 2017 @ 12:04 pm
Iam very devoted to bless mother, I’ve been there this year,wonder if I could get info on who is current caretaker of it, and how to get in touch with them.my interest is to help preserve what Mr battaglia started and carry on
October 6, 2017 @ 7:40 pm
Hi Michael. It’s been a few years since I’ve looked in to this story, but I believe the current caretaker is a man named Louis Batista who works in the building directly across the street from the shrine.
March 15, 2021 @ 10:58 am
Thanks for writing this article. I grew up at 798 as a small child. I would go by the shrine daily but wasn’t told what it represented. I’d see many people stop by and pray put envelopes in the slot. When I moved away years after the local tv station did a story. Set the town abuzz. Till this day you can see people stop by and pray like me. The neighborhood it’s located in is now called larkinville. Trendy and a lot of new buildings and retail surrounding her. I’m sure Mary is happy .