A Visit to St Andrew's - The (soon to be) Basilica of the Blue Ridge - In Roanoke Virginia

 Dear Henry,

Roanoke, Virginia, has one of the prettiest Roman Catholic churches I've ever seen, and soon, it looks to become a minor basilica and a place of pilgrimage. Let me tell you all about it.

The story of St. Andrew's begins before Roanoke City was Roanoke. The original village of Big Lick had only one Catholic. It wasn't until the building of the Shenandoah Railroad's construction in 1881 and the influx of Irish Catholic rail workers that there were enough Catholics for a parish. So, in 1882, Father John W. Lynch was assigned by the Bishop of Richmond, John J Keane, to the parish of St Patrick's in Lexington, Virginia, and the pastoral care of all the Catholics in the counties of Rockbridge, Alleghany, Bath, Botetourt, Craig, and Roanoke. The first mass in Roanoke occurred on November 19, 1882, in the railroad's passenger car number 6.

The small parish was able to find better accommodations soon. They met at Rorer Hall on 3rd and Campbell until the local land developer J.B. Austin offered Father Lynch a gift of two plots of land from any of Mr. Austin's holdings. Father Lynch chose two lots atop a hill near downtown. A small brick church was built on the site.  

The small eight-pew parish of St. Andrews began collecting money to purchase the surrounding land, eventually increasing the lot to nearly 13 acres, and a rectory was built in 1887. The St. Vincent Home for Boys was built next to the church in 1893, with the auditorium added several years later following a gift from Mr. Thomas Fortune Ryan. 

The parish continued to grow, and in 1897, began the construction of the church that is there now. The parish hired Architect William P. Ginter from Akron, Ohio, who designed a twin-spired, high Victorian Gothic church in tan brick and sandstone imported from Ohio. The interior was originally painted white and gold, with a white marble altar and communion rail, but in 1947, artists from Yonkers painted stenciling and frescos. The fifteen stained glass windows come from the Munich, Germany's Franz Meyer Company. They are another stunning example of Munich glass (other great examples of Munich glass I've seen adorn the Holy Family Cathedral in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Osage Nation's Church of the Immaculate Conception in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.

The church was completed in 1900 and added to the National Historic Register in 1973.

There have been a couple of renovations in addition to the 1947 fresco work. After Vatican II, a free-standing blue marble altar, ambo, and celebrant's chair were added, and the side altars and altar rail were removed. The lighting was also updated. From 2010 to 2014, the most extensive renovations were done. The pipe organ, original to the structure, was replaced with an electric organ, which is easier to maintain and play. The pipes remain, though, and add a lot to the look of the choir loft. The spires, original to the church and suffering from termite damage, were completely rebuilt. 

St. Andrew's is the home of 17 relics. The most significant being wood from the True Cross. There are also relics of St. Andrew the Apostle, patron saint of the parish, St James the Greater, St Matthew, St. Mark, and St Nicodemus (who, like St. Joseph of Arimathea, risked much to ensure that our Lord Jesus had an honorable burial)

The church has always been a sort of cathedral for the local area, as the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond, Virginia, is nearly three hours away. So, after the renovations, the parish began looking into making the church something more. In the fall of 2022, a request was sent to the Vatican, along with oodles of documentation, to convert the church to a minor basilica.

Upgrading the building to a basilica would be amazing. St. Andrew's would then become a place of pilgrimage and perhaps even a place to host summits and conferences, as Roanoke Airport has direct flights from Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, New York - LaGuardia, D.C. -  Dulles, and Philadelphia. Although the hill is quite a climb, the Historic Hotel Roanoke is also a short walk away, and the Amtrak station is also very close.

Basilica or not, the church is a beautiful piece of Roanoke history and a must-see if you're traveling the Blue Ridge Highway.

xoxo a.d. elliott

*Check out the YouTube video tour here: https://youtu.be/jWxydvhTZc0

PS - The Vatican approved the request to elevate St. Andrew's to a minor basilica - the Blessing and Installation of the Basilica Insignia Mass (which I was lucky enough to attend) was on December 3, 2023. 


a.d. elliott is a wanderer, writer, and photographer currently living in Salem, Virginia. 

In addition to the travel writings at www.takethebackroads.com, you can also read her book reviews at www.riteoffancy.com and US military biographies at www.everydaypatriot.com

Her online photography gallery can be found at shop.takethebackroads.com


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