Past the cafes and pastry shops, and a two-minute walk from Paul Revere’s statue, there’s a brick alley just off Hanover Street. Most visitors follow the Freedom Trail toward the Old North Church, but some find their way here, to a self-made tourist attraction called All Saints Way.
“My name is Peter,” Peter Baldassari told the wide-eyed tourists who stopped to peer into the narrow alley. “That’s my shrine.”
He ushered them off Battery Street and into the cool of the shaded alley, where framed pictures and collages of Catholic saints cover the walls. Saint Joan, Saint Gabriel, Saint Patrick, Saint Jeanne — hundreds in all, a vast collection faithfully assembled over nearly 30 years.
“There are more saints there than in paradise,” joked the Rev. Antonio Nardoianni of St. Leonard’s Church, where Baldassari ushers at Saturday evening Masses. Nardoianni, 70, called Baldassari an “encyclopedia” of saints.
Baldassari, 75, knows where every saint is in the alley, because he put them there.
“This is Saint Therese, the Little Flower,” he said, pointing to her collage. “You know who gave her the name Little Flower? Herself. She told God, ‘I’m your little flower.’ ”
Without pause, he’s on to the next.
“That’s Padre Pio. He says, ‘Pray, hope, and don’t worry,’ ” Baldassari explained. “Some of the people in this neighborhood don’t pray, they don’t hope, they just worry. When I tell people that they laugh.”
All Saints Way, a name Baldassari coined, is a bit off the beaten path, but still draws visitors from around the world. Google Maps labels it a tourist attraction, as does Lonely Planet and Roadside America, and Baldassari says it’s listed in some foreign travel guides. He has met people from Iran, Iraq, Germany, Russia, and Poland, just to name a few. All Saints Way draws a lot of French tourists, although sometimes they get on Baldassari’s nerves. Some can’t even name a single French saint, he said.
“There’s so many!” he exclaimed with exasperation.
Baldassari has gathered most of the collection himself, but some people bring him mementos from their travels, such as portraits of saints. He recalled once receiving an entire portfolio of documents on Australia’s Saint Mary MacKillop, he said.
Baldassari began taking an interest in the saints as a teenager, when he started collecting holy cards, which typically have a picture of a saint on one side and a prayer on the back. Then, 28 years ago, he was struck by the idea to create a shrine in the neighborhood he’s lived in his whole life. Baldassari doesn’t own the alleyway, but he got the landlord’s permission to use it. It once was “a trash bin,” Baldassari noted.
The shrine is typically open from 1 to 2 p.m. every day and between 9:30 a.m. and noon on the weekends. He doesn’t sell any mementos but accepts donations in a small mailbox. On Tuesday, visitors donated $75.
Above the door to All Saints Way, a sign reads “Mock all and sundry things, but leave the saints alone.” Decorating the shrine is Baldassari’s pastime. In the mornings, he works at Union Oyster House as a receiver of goods. He’s worked there for just under 50 years.
One of Baldassari’s old friends, Gene Kroner, said Baldassari helped welcome him, a Jew, into the tightknit Italian North End community in the ’70s.
“One of the reasons I survived that early venture was because of Peter’s wise counsel,” Kroner said. “That’s what is truly special about Peter . . . he always treated his friends like saints and his saints like friends.”
Nardoianni called Baldassari a “living memory of the North End.”
“He knows everyone,” he said. “He’s also known by everyone.”
Asked what will happen to All Saints Way when he dies, Baldassari dismissed the premise of the question.
“You know, there’s a gospel song, ‘I’m gonna live forever. I’m gonna die no never.’ ” His mother is 100.
Outside All Saints Way, he shouts greetings at passersby.
“Hey, Doc!” he yells to the former doctor of his wife, who died five years ago. A group of young women shout, “Hi, Peter!” as they walk by. He chats with a construction worker on the corner.
On Wednesday, the Polillos, visiting from Canada, had paused to look at the shrine when “all of a sudden Peter called us over,” Peter Polillo said.
His wife, Maria, was taken aback that Baldassari had welcomed them and struck up a conversation.
“When does that happen anymore?” she said. She was impressed with his wealth of information, and his eagerness to share it.
Baldassari is a storyteller, and his characters are the saints.
“Each one, each one has a story,” he said. “You know, they suffered a lot in their countries. But they had the faith. Faith is important.”
His audience? Whoever happens to stumble across his shrine.
Two tourists from Maine curiously approached the alleyway. Baldassari greeted them with a wave of the hand and a modest nod of his head.
“This is my shrine. Thanks for finding it.”