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The Baltimore Basilica

The Baltimore Basilica

The Baltimore Basilica is a historical Catholic cathedral in downtown Baltimore, Maryland. The church, located at 409 Cathedral St, Baltimore, MD 21201, was built from 1874 to 1891 as a replacement for the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen which was destroyed by fire in 1871. It is the seat of the Ordinary for the Archdiocese of Baltimore and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1975. Founded in 1796, today the Archdiocese of Baltimore encompasses more than 400 parishes and missions across six counties in Maryland and one parish in Pennsylvania. Its diocesan structure includes five deaneries (Centre, Dorchester, Howard, Washington and West) with 56 vicariates and 34 cathedrals throughout its geographical territory.


Following the American Revolution, Catholics in Maryland were denied full rights as citizens and were largely barred from holding political office. This situation was partially remedied by the passage of a Catholic Relief Act in 1791, but Catholics were still largely confined to a status of second-class citizenship. As a result, Catholics in Maryland began to look abroad for leadership, founding their own clergy and establishing a large network of religious institutes for education and worship. Thomas F. Gilchrist, a native of Ireland and a teacher at Georgetown College in Washington, D.C., began to travel throughout Maryland in the early 19th century, establishing Catholic parishes in Baltimore and in nearby Hagerstown. After being ordained a priest in 1838, he continued his missionary efforts and established a new parish in downtown Baltimore in 1841.

Architecture and symbolism

The Baltimore Basilica is a large rectangular structure with steeply pitched, slate-covered cupolas atop the central crossing tower and lateral towers which flank the main entrance. The main entrance is flanked by a pair of two-story arcades which support the building above and create a public plaza in front of the church. The exterior is clad in red-orange brick and features slate-covered gables and a monumental central pediment with a large, yellow sunburst which dominates the spandrels and entrance. The cupolas and towers are capped with copper and the walls below the cupolas are covered in yellow brick. At the front of the structure is a large, central cross which also serves as a focal point for the interior decoration. The interior of the basilica is divided into three sections by gabled bays which divide the church into three sections. The central section is dominated by the altar and a large stained glass window depicting the Virgin Mary and Christ in the center of the church. The eastern section contains the sanctuary and the west section serves as a choir and seating area. Learn

Significant events and memorials

The Basilica was the site of major events in the history of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, including the death and burial of many of the early bishops, the consecration of the first bishop of Baltimore, the first mass in the basilica, the proclamation of Baltimore as a diocese, the laying of the first stone for the basilica, the installation of many bishops, the canonization of John Paul II and John XXIII, the death and burial of many Baltimorean Catholics, the consecration of Baltimore as a metropolitan archdiocese and the installation of the current Archbishop. The basilica also served as the final resting place for many significant Baltimorean Catholics including John Carroll, the first bishop of the diocese, who was buried on July 21, 1815 in the crypt beneath the altar; John Egan, who was buried in the crypt beneath the main altar in 1875 after a long period of illness; and Helen Bishop, who was buried under the choir in 1892. The basilica also contains a number of memorials which honor the city's Catholic heritage and the many early bishops of the region, including an altar which commemorates the first mass in the basilica, a statue of St. John the Evangelist and a memorial to Archbishop John Carroll and his wife who were buried beneath the altar.

Parish activities

The Baltimore Basilica is home to the Baltimore Catholic Prayer Book, a vital part of the Catholic faith in the Archdiocese. The book was created by a group of Catholics and is used in nearly every Catholic parish in Maryland. The archdiocese has a copy of the prayer book in its archives and the basilica's copy is generally open for viewing at least twice a week. The Basilica is also home to an extensive stained glass collection which includes both modern and traditional pieces. The basilica's stained glass windows are on display in the narthex on most weekdays and for many evenings and weekends. The Baltimore Basilica is also home to a number of other historic items including chalices, candlesticks and vestments which were crafted in France between 1590 and 1630 and used in Catholic Masses during that time period. Next Blog Page

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