Monday, May 29, 2017

Baltimore Basilica

The Baltimore Basilica, also known as the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was the first Roman Catholic cathedral built in the United States, constructed between 1806 and 1821.
It was designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, the first professionally trained architect in the U.S. and called the "Father of American Architecture." He also designed the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. and the porticos of the White House. The Baltimore Basilica was raised to the rank of a Minor Basilica in 1937. 
An aerial view taken from Wikipedia.

The main facade is a classical Greek portico with Ionic columns and the exterior walls are made of silver-gray gneiss. Thomas Jefferson, a friend of Latrobe, made some suggestions in planning for the dome. 
The Umbraculum identifies its status as a Minor Basilica. 
This red hat hanging the the cathedral was conferred by a pope on James Gibbons when he was elevated to the title of a Cardinal in 1887. When the Cardinal dies it is customary to perpetuate his memory by suspending it in the cathedral until it disintegrates. 
This wall niche monument to Cardinal Gibbons indicates he was the ninth archbishop of Baltimore and served in that capacity from 1877 to 1921. 
He is buried in the renovated basement below. 
There is also a picture of him with Teddy Roosevelt, probably at a time when Roosevelt was president of the U.S., and a caption indicating they were good friends and that Roosevelt was a frequent visitor to the Basilica.  
King Louis XVIII of France gave two paintings as gifts shortly after the 1821 opening. One is the Descent from the Cross by Pierre-Narcisse Guerin and the other is Louis IX of France burying his plague-stricken troops before the siege of Tunis during the Eighth Crusade in 1270 by Baron Charles de Steuben. 
The Descent from the Cross by Baron Pierre Narcisse Guerin, a gift from Louis XVIII.
St. Louis (Louis IX of France) burying his plague-stricken troops before Tunis in 1270, also a gift by Louis XVIII. 
A $34 million restoration project which took 32 months was completed in 2006. It restored the original wall colors (pale yellow, blue and rose), the light-colored marble flooring (which had been dark green for decades), and the stained glass windows were removed and replaced with clear glass windows. The basement, which was full of sand, was cleared and the Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Chapel was built there, something envisioned by Latrobe. 
A photo from near the entrance toward the main altar. Note the white floor and the light colors.
The archbishop's seat and the podium were more flashy than normal, draped in red fabric and yellow, the same colors in the Umbraculum. 
Behind the main altar.
Inside the main dome.
Inside one of the lesser domes.
Inside one of the lesser domes. 
I love the white benches. They remind me of the colonial benches found in the churches in Boston. The Ionic columns mirror those on the front.
The Stations of the Cross were paintings in gold frames. This one is illustrative. 
The new chapel in the renovated crypt.
Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signatory to the Declaration of Independence, had his funeral mass there. Pope Pius XII visited in 1936 and Pope John Paul II visited in 1995. Mother Teresa visited in 1996 to attend the renewal of vows for 35 of her Missionaries of Charity, the order she founded in India. And in 1997, Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople presided at an ecumenical prayer service there, the first time an Orthodox patriarch had presided at a Roman Catholic cathedral in the U.S. 
A plaque commemorating the visit of Pope Pius XII.
A sculpture commemorating the visit of Mother Teresa.
Some of the things I love about visiting Catholic churches are the amazing rich colors and the overwhelming assault on the senses of the statuary, the painting, and the candles. This cathedral was much more muted and I appreciated it for that. It was much more simple and beautiful in its simpleness. 


  1. The two paintings gifted by King Louis XVIII have remarkably similar layouts. It's as if he was suggesting that the sacrifices of Christ and the French troops are similar.

  2. Beautiful,soft colors. Interesting that they took out the stain glass.