It seems appropriate during Holy Week, and after the news of the fire at Notre Dame, to share the amazing churches we have visited. We have experienced mass and services at a wide variety of churches, and even a monastery . While the order of mass and prayers remain the same, it is interesting to hear the small differences in the music and priests’ styles.
Most Sundays, we find the nearest church (often the only Catholic church) and have a choice of two masses . Living in Dallas, we are spoiled by a wide selection of mass times. However, it is great fun to attend mass with a new community especially when we will be there for a couple of weeks and get to learn more about the church. Breckenridge was a small church off one of the busy residential streets and, in our month there, had at least three visiting priests. I guess even priests like to ski.
While in the Atlanta area, I visited the Monastery of the Holy Spirit and attended evening vespers. While a simple structure, the Trappist monks there specialized in biscotti, stained glass, and bonsai trees. It was a lovely service and grounds.
Growing up in Dallas, I visited the downtown Cathedral a few times, but didn’t really stop to consider it is one of 195 cathedrals across the US. A church is designated a cathedral in the Catholic faith if it houses the Bishop of the diocese. I just assumed the Dallas Cathedral was grander than the more recent churches since it was built in the 1890s and was likely the only Catholic church for miles. However, we are discovering that the US has some gorgeous cathedrals that rival European churches.
Our first cathedral was in Denver, CO – The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. This beautiful church sits up on a hill and was designated a basilica in 1979. Only the pope can confers the designation onto churches, giving them the ability to use the pope’s seal and other papal symbols. Pope John Paul II also celebrated mass here on for World Youth Day in 1993. Started in 1902, the church was completed in 1911. It houses 75 beautiful stained glass windows, more than any other church in America.
The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis was designated a minor basilica by Pope John Paul II in 1997 (the only major basilicas are in Rome). The church was completed in 1914 after 7 years of construction and named after Saint Louis, naturally. They started installing mosaics shortly after the church opened. Completed in 1988, the church has more than 41.5 million pieces of glass tesserae in more than 7,000 colors to show various scenes from the Bible, symbols of Christianity and historical figures from St. Louis who important to the church. It was truly beautiful and amazing to see how the tiles came together to create such artistry!
In Savannah, we went to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, where we attended mass with the Bishop for the first time. This cathedral might be one of most surprising – to have such a large congregation here in the Deep South, knowing that Savannah’s original charter prohibited “slavery, lawyers, Catholics, and hard liquor.” The founding fathers, who were English, were concerned that Catholics would be more loyal to the Spanish than to their mother country. (Of course, if you prohibited hard liquor, you likely didn’t have to worry about the Catholics settling here.) Clearly those prohibitions faded away and the congregation organized in 1796, creating this church from 1873-1896, then having to rebuild it after a fire in 1898.
Apparently there was a large Irish population in Savannah, which not only funded this church but also created the very long-standing and popular St. Patrick Day Parade. Word is that they named the church St. John the Baptist to make the Protestant majority feel a bit better about the large church in their midst. The cathedral includes 34 beautiful murals painted in New York over 100 years ago and hung up to look like they were painted on the walls of the church. The Stations of the Cross, which were carved in Munich, Germany, are very unusual and truly inspiring as they are three dimensional.
I am not sure we will make it to all 195 US Cathedrals, but maybe we can see the 85 US Basilicas. I know we have seen at least one other – Cathedral Basilica of St Louis, King of France in New Orleans so just 82 to go.