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Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul

The cathedral church (Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul) is the principal church of the diocese, because it is here that the bishop as local ordinary of the diocese has his throne (chair), called the cathedra. Open since 1864 and located at the East side of Logan Square on 18th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the cathedral is the mother church of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. It is the largest brownstone structure in Philadelphia and the largest Catholic Church in Pennsylvania. The history of the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul is central to the history of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.


History of the Cathedral

In June 1784 the prefect of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, Cardinal Leonardo Antonelli, issued a decree establishing the Catholic Church in the United States as a distinct administrative area. In 1789 Father John Carroll was appointed as the first Bishop of Baltimore with jurisdiction over what was then the entire United States.


On April 8, 1808, Pope Pius VII established Baltimore as the first archdiocese in the United States and created four new dioceses: Philadelphia, Boston, New York and Bardstown, Kentucky. On the same date the first bishop of the Diocese (the entire State of Pennsylvania, the entire State of Delaware, and half of the State of New Jersey) of Philadelphia, was named. The Diocese of Philadelphia as established comprised about 43,000 square miles. The pastor of Saint Mary’s Church, Father Michael Egan, O.S.F., was appointed the first Bishop of Philadelphia and was ordained a bishop in October 1810. Saint Mary’s (4th Street near Spruce) would serve as the cathedral, and there the bishop would serve as pastor. Bishop Egan died in 1814 and his body was buried in the church yard of Saint Mary’s. After Bishop Egan’s death, Philadelphia had no bishop for nearly five and a half years. Egan’s successor was Bishop Henry Conwell, who was Bishop of Philadelphia from 1820 through 1842. As old age weakened Bishop Conwell, he was given assistance by the appointment of Bishop Francis Kenrick as coadjutor bishop. The young Bishop Kenrick was able to visit many of the parishes and quickly doubled the number of parishes in the City of Philadelphia. He established Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in 1832 and taught the first classes in his residence.


As the Catholic population grew, and the Diocese of Philadelphia became more organized and its institutions more visible, the intolerance of Catholics grew as some saw the Catholic Church as a threat to traditional American values. Closely tied to this anti-Catholicism was a political movement known as "nativism" that blamed recent immigrants (1840’s), especially the Irish, for changing the conditions of life in the City of Philadelphia.


Architecture & Art

The Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul is modeled after the Lombard Church of Saint Charles (San Carlo al Corso) in Rome. It is an excellent example of Roman-Corinthian architecture. The façade is Notman’s greatest achievement while serving as architect. The Palladian façade and aqua oxidized-copper dome are in the Italian Renaissance manner. The façade is of brownstone, now atmosphere and weather-worn and pinkish in color. The stone originally came from quarries in Connecticut and northern New Jersey. The façade is graced by four massive stone columns of the Corinthian order, over 60 feet high and 6 feet in diameter. The four statues in the niches are: the Sacred Heart, to whom the diocese was consecrated by Bishop Wood on October 15, 1873; Mary, the Immaculate Conception, proclaimed patroness of the United States at the First Council of Baltimore in 1846; and Saints Peter and Paul, dauntless defenders of the faith, patrons of the Cathedral Basilica. The statue of Mary, the Immaculate Conception was placed in the niche in 1918. It was sculpted at the Joseph Sibbel Studios. The Statues of Saints Peter and Paul were sculpted in the Gorham Studios. The Cathedral Basilica measures more than 250 feet in length, 136 feet in width, and approximately 156 feet in height from the floor to the top of the dome. The total height is 209 feet from the floor to the top of the 11-foot gold cross atop the dome, bringing the total height of the Cathedral to 314 feet above the pavement. The dome is an iconic symbol of the Catholic Church in Philadelphia. The great dome is a recognizable sign of this religious landmark among the many civic ones on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway


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Taken on April 16, 2012