Sunday, February 7, 2016

Photo Essay: The First Cathedral of the Colonies

It bills itself as America's first cathedral, which is fair enough...



...because it was the first cathedral built in any of the first 13 colonies that were considered to be part of "America" at the time...



...although there were other cathedrals built in what is now the United States of America before The Baltimore Basilica.



From its stately exterior...



...it actually looks far more like a courthouse or some other municipal or federal building...



...rather than one dedicated to ecclesiastical purposes.



That's probably because its architect, Benjamin Henry Latrobe...



...also designed the U.S. Capitol building, which heavily influenced his design for the cathedral...



...built in an area of Baltimore known as "Cathedral Hill."



Once you pass through the neoclassical columns of the portico, though, it's clear that this is sacred space...



...with memorials devoted to the religious dignitaries who have visited, like Mother Theresa, Pope John Paul II...



...and at least 20 other people who ended up becoming canonized or are likely to become saints at some point in the future.



In many ways, this was the birthplace of the Catholic Church in New America...



...built in our country's first Roman Catholic diocese (declared 1789) under the guidance of our first Roman Catholic bishop...



...and having consecrated many of America's first bishops...



...and ordaining more priests than any other church in the U.S. (that is, until recently).



Latrobe's style—and his Greek monumental influences—can be seen in the number of domes throughout the cruciform structure...



...the coffered ceilings adorned with plaster rosettes.




Like many historic structures, the basilica went through some cosmetic changes in the mid-20th century—a coat of paint here, a slab of marble there—and lost much of its original character.



But much of it—including the pipe organ—(originally built by Hilborne Roosevelt in 1884)—was restored in 2006 and has returned to its former, light and bright glory...



...which, for many, is a refreshing change from the dimly lit Gothic cathedrals of Europe.



Liturgical details include ceiling murals...



...and the Altar of Reservation, with its cross, candlesticks...



...and Rafael Angels, which were carved out of wood (not plaster!) in 1821...



...and had been sitting in storage since 1947.



There's also the Altar of St. Michael the Archangel...




...lit by clear windows instead of the traditional colored art glass of most cathedrals.




But the really exciting part of the restoration is the undercroft, directly under the main altar...



...which, prior to the restoration, had never been open to the public.



It is AMAZING.



It's basically used as a museum now, with statuary, historic photos...



...various religious accoutrements, and temporary exhibits.



A statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe stands under a curved brick ceiling...



...which is actually an architectural marvel of inverted arches...



...that holds up the cathedral above it.



It's also a crypt. Some of the interred have been moved, but eight of the 12 archbishops of Baltimore who have passed were buried here, including its founder, John Carroll.



The walls of the crypt also bear the names (and the hand-drawn signatures) of two of the restoration workers who helped open it up to the public.

Very creepy and wonderful, and a good reason to have taken a two-hour lunch break when I was supposed to be training for my new job.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Brooklyn's Haunted German Cathedral - Clock Tower, Crypt & Rathskeller
Photo Essay: Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (Updated for 2015)