What’s always been intriguing to me, is how humans assign a spiritual value to a particular geographical location. A place like the North American Martyrs Shrine in Auriesville, NY has become a place of pilgrimage to Catholics because of the events that took place on the land and the role it played in the future of Catholicism in New York State. Each summer Mormons flock by the thousands daily 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 in nature? How does one place become more important than another?’ This isn’t a philosophical blog though, or one intended to stir the pot of thought 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 with you here are places where people go to engage with other like minded believers to solidify and practice their brand of faith. Over the last year I kind of hemmed and hawed and over-thought and smoked many cigars while discussing the process of whether the interest of sharing would win over the interest of trying to maintain a consistent criteria for what can be defined as a place of worship. It’s probably safe to say that if you find a place to be important, and you connect it with your brand of faith, then it’s a spiritual place. Part of the importance of telling this story is that I suspect many people have seen it and never known what the history behind it.
The City of Buffalo has seen its share of ups and downs, but in the 1950’s when the Cold War was just a few years in, a lot of people and municipalities were struggling to make ends meet and to keep their faith strong. 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 to find a shining image out his bedroom window, and 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.
Battaglia wasted no time in starting, but took a year to finish building the tan brick, glass block entombed Virgin Mary shrine 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 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 is even 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