I’ve visited a lot of surprising places in my travels around the Allegheny Mountains, but few spots have been as unexpected as the grave of Russian Prince Demetrius Gallitzin.
Yes, that’s right, there’s a Russian prince buried in Cambria County, PA. And, even if you don’t know his story, if you’ve traveled in this part of Pennsylvania, you’ve likely seen his name on spots like Prince Gallitzin State Park, Gallitzin State Forest, the Gallitzin Tunnels, and the borough of Gallitzin, PA.
And the story of how a Russian prince came to be buried and associated with this region of Pennsylvania is quite an interesting one.
Prince Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin was born December 1770 at The Hague in the Netherlands. His father, Prince Dmitri Gallitzin was the Russian Ambassador to the Netherlands at the time his son was born.
Demetrius was raised in a life of luxury in the Netherlands, speaking French at home and best friends with the future King William I of the Netherlands. Even more amazingly, when Gallitzin was two years old, he was held by Russian Empress Catherine the Great.
When he was 22, Gallitzin embarked on a trip to the Americas. It was common at the time for aristocratic youth to finish their education with travel, but since the French Revolution had made travel in Europe more dangerous, his father sent him across the Atlantic. To avoid his title when traveling, he assumed the name Augustine Schmettau (He later changed his assumed last name to “Smith”.)
Prince Demetrius Gallitzin, now known as Augustine, had already converted to Catholicism at this time, and when we arrived in Baltimore, quickly decided to give up his life of luxury in Europe for the priesthood in the United States.
In 1799, four years after being ordained, Prince Gallitzin founded the settlement of Loretto, Pennsylvania. This was the first English-speaking Catholic community west of the Allegheny Front.
Gallitzin would serve as a priest in this community and the surrounding area until his death in 1840, earning the name the Apostle of the Alleghenies. In 2005, he was made a Servant of God by Pope Benedict XVI, the first step towards sainthood.
Prince Gallitzin was initially buried near St. Michael’s Church. However, between 1899 and 1901, industrialist Charles M. Schwab, who had been born nearby and whose house is now the Mount Assisi Gardens, funded the current Basilica of St. Michael the Archangel and a monument and crypt for Gallitzin. It is here that he is buried today.
Gallitzin’s grave is located beneath the large monument and statue of him outside of the large stone basilica. The basilica is quite striking and is one of the most beautiful religious buildings in this part of the state.
Atop the monument, there is a life-size statue of Prince Gallitzin along with an epitaph on the stone pillar that the statue is standing atop.
On the backside of the monument (the side closest to the church), there is a metal gate and, beyond that, five stone steps that lead down to a crypt below the statue. The crypt itself is only about five feet in height, so make sure to watch your head when visiting.
In this crypt, you’ll find a cast iron vault that contains the remains of Prince Demetrius Gallitzin, which were moved here from his original burial site after the monument was built in 1899. Often, the top of the vault is covered in letters and other trinkets from visitors to this spot.
If you visit before 5 pm, the basilica is typically open to the public for prayer, meditation, and self-guided tours. I wasn’t able to check out the interior during my first visit, but had a chance to during a later visit to Loretto and found it to be quite stunning.
Definitely take some time to see the inside if you are able during your visit.
Also nearby, you’ll find the Prince Gallitzin Chapel House within the adjacent cemetery. This building contains a few artifacts from Gallitzin’s life and is open on a few select Sundays during the warmer months of the year. You can see the dates here.
Ultimately, unless you are making a pilgrimage to visit this site, the crypt of Prince Demetrius Gallitzin isn’t the type of spot that’s worth going far out of your way to see. However, if you find yourself exploring this corner of the Alleghenies, this is definitely an interesting and unique spot that’s worth a quick stop.
The crypt of Prince Gallitzin and the Basilica of St. Michael the Archangel can be found at 321 St Mary St, Loretto, PA 15940.