BOOMER, WV (WVNS) — Only one church of the Roman Catholic faith in all of West Virginia is known as a “shrine”, a place of special devotion that contains a saint’s relic, but no one knows why.

Saint Anthony’s Shrine, in the former mining town of Boomer, contains a relic of its patron saint. However, Catholic leaders and historians have largely been unable to find out what the relic is.

A shrine is a catholic place of worship like a church, but with one difference. Shrines are special churches that contain a relic from a saint: usually housed in a special container called a reliquary. A reliquary is a container to keep a relic safe, and is never to be opened for preservation purposes. There are three types of relics that saints leave behind:

  • The first class is a part of the saint’s body.
  • The second class is a piece of the saint’s clothing or something used by the saint.
  • The third class is any object touched by a first-class relic.

Officials with Catholic leadership in West Virginia are at a loss to explain how the shrine was designated and what the sacred relic kept inside might be.

Saint Anthony’s Shrine contains a relic of its patron saint, Saint Anthony of Padua (1195–1231 A.D.), but little documentation can be found thus far to reveal its history, according to Jon-Erik Gilot, director of Archives & Records for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. Some relic of the body of Saint Anthony is preserved within this reliquary within the church.

“All Roman Catholic churches contain some relic of a saint, but in the case of a shrine, there must be something even more important contained therein, but we’ve not been able to find a record so far.”

Jon-Erik Gilot, director of Archives & Records for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston

The only clue to the history of Saint Anthony’s Shrine comes from a type-written history published by the Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church in Montgomery. It referred to Saint Anthony’s in 1956 as having been termed such before the relic was installed.

“The main altar was elevated on three steps to ensure better visibility. Two new side altars were added. Two of three gradines were removed, as well as a cylindrical tabernacle. Father McDonald explained that at last Saint Anthony’s Shrine, which had been a shrine in name only, was now truly such. Beneath the statue of Saint Anthony, in a marble niche, there would repose a reliquary containing a first-class relic of Saint Anthony.”

Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church

“A rather unusual happening occurred while Father Schmitt was pastor. He noticed one morning that the relic of Saint Anthony was missing. It normally reposed in an open niche beneath the statue of Saint Anthony. In a short time, the reliquary containing the relic was returned. Since that time, it has rested in a closed niche.”

Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church

Almost no other clues to the origin of the Shrine exist in modern records.

More than half of Christians are Roman Catholic, but its churches are relatively rare in southern West Virginia. The region was primarily settled by Protestants, and then smaller groups of Roman Catholic immigrants followed to mine coal.

Saint Anthony’s Shrine is located a 2764 Midland Trail at Boomer, WV 25031. Mass at the church is traditionally offered at 11 A.M. on Sundays.