Historic Church Tour #3

December 12, 2006

Baltimore, Maryland



First stop on our 3rd bus trip...The Baltimore Basilica, America's first cathedral. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, cornerstone laid by Bishop John Carroll in 1806, dedicated in 1821

Rooftop view of the Basilica showing the skylights of the grand dome and the twin bell towers.



A basilica is a title of honor given to a Roman Catholic church because of its antiquity, dignity, historical importance or significance as a center of worship.  The basilica in Baltimore was ranked as a minor basilica by Pope Piux XI on September 1, 1937. The clock on the south bell tower was installed in 1866 as a gift to Baltimore from Archbishop Martin John Spalding.


Basilica of the National Shrine... The distinguishing mark of a shrine is to establish it as a place to which the faithful make pilgrimages.  Baltimore's basilica continually draws pilgrims from around the archdiocese, the country and the world. Looking from the rear of the church up the main aisle to the main altar.

Listening to our tour guide sharing some of the history and the restoration of the basilica.



Bronze seal in the floor commemorating the Jesuit contribution to Catholicism in America... 1540 St. Ignatius Loyola starts the Jesuit order in Rome;  1634 Jesuits land on Maryland's southern shore (St. Clement's Island);  1805 Formal restoration of Jesuit order after decades of suppression when 3 men take vows at St Ignatius Church at Chapel Point, Maryland. Painting in the West dome depicting the Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven, patroness of the Basilica.


Newly restored grand dome allowing natural light to flood the interior from 24 ten-foot-long skylights hidden behind a second, outer dome. Dove and golden medallion centered in grand dome.


One of 12 consecration crosses placed throughout the Basilica recalling the spots Archbishop Bayley consecrated the walls on May 25, 1876.  TWELVE symbolizes the 12 tribes of Israel and the names of the 12 apostles signifying that the Church consists of the old and new Israel. Original 40-foot-long balcony in the rear of the basilica was the sole spot permitted for the worship of ''free blacks'', one of which was Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange, founder of the Oblate Sisters of Providence in 1828. The organ looks much as it did when it was originally built in 1819.


The south balcony, which was used by religious women, had two levels.  Ordinary professed women would occupy the lower pew.  The upper level was reserved for cloistered nuns and when they were in attendance, a curtain would be drawn across the pole to maintain their solitude. Memorial shrine to John Carroll, first Roman Catholic bishop and archbishop of the United States.


A basilica has the right to display the caponium or papal umbrella.  It is similar to those used centuries ago to shield the pope from the sun as he traveled by horseback on official visits.  The bright red and yellow colors were the imperial ones prior to Napoleon's time. Restored pulpit, reached by spiral staircase and surmounted by a baldachin, an ornamental structure resembling a canopy over an important person or object. 

The original high altar was given to Archbishop Ambrose Marechal, the third archbishop of Baltimore, in 1821 by a group of seminarians he had taught at Aix-en Provence.  In 1822, Pope Pius VII gave the altar a papal honor.


The 'bishop's chair' or cathedra, the Greek word from which ''cathedral'' is derived, is believed to be from the time of Archbishop Marechal.  It was from this chair, moved from its place near the main altar for the first time, that Pope John Paul II presided over the papal Mass at Camden Yards in October 1995.

The galero, or cardinal's hat, of James Cardinal Gibbons hangs just to the side of the bishop's chair.  It has long been a tradition of the Church to hang the red hat of a deceased cardinal in the sanctuary of his cathedral. Legend has it that when the hat falls to the ground, the cardinal's soul has entered heaven.


The tintinnabulum, or papal bell, is the insignia of a basilica and represents its rank.  It is traditional for the bell to sound the approach of a papal procession. Lighting a candle in the basilica for intentions.



East dome above the main altar. East dome painting of the Transfiguration of Christ.

The so-called Marechal Altar in the rear with a set of six altar candlesticks given to Archbishop Marechal by seminary students.  The altar in the foreground was put in place following the Vatican II change that the priest face the congregation.


One of the two life-size wooden angel statues recovered from storage in the undercroft.  It is believed that there were originally four statues. The angels are believed to have been carved in the early 1800's, possibly in France or Germany, but they could also have been made by a local Baltimore craftsman. Fr. Daly points to the first list of names of Baltimore archbishops buried beneath the basilica sanctuary.


Names of the last two archbishops buried in the basilica crypt Looking through the crypt to the undercroft chapel.


Fr. Daly translates the Latin inscription on one of the tombstones in the crypt. Statue of Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, patroness of the basilica undercroft chapel, and also patroness of Knights of Columbus Council 11259, which includes St. John Vianney parish.

Latrobe's design of inverted brick arches throughout the undercroft evenly distributes the weight of the main dome on the soil.


The newly finished chapel in the undercroft of the basilica was included in the original plans but never built because of lack of funds. The tabernacle in the chapel had formerly been in the main church, Pope John Paul II prayed before it when he visited the basilica in 1995.

An example of Latrobe's uniquely designed inverted arches supporting the weight of the basilica's dome


Six areas of cement parging where some of the original workers signed their names are seen on the brickwork. Two of the restoration workers repeated the tradition.


Portrait of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, architect of the basilica Vestments of Archbishop Gibbons in the basilica museum Cappa magna or great cape of Lawrence Cardinal Shehan.


Tabernacle used in the chapel of Charles Carroll of Carrolltown, cousin of Archbishop John Carroll.

Fr. Daly and Msgr. Brady concelebrate Mass at the restored basilica.


Fr. Daly delivers the homily, commenting on the historical significance of standing where all of Baltimore's Archbishops have stood, in America's first cathedral. Fr. Daly and Msgr. Brady prepare to consecrate the Body and Blood of Christ.


Fr. Daly leads part of our group to St. Alphonsus Church. Refreshed after lunch and ready for our next stop, St. Alphonsus.


St. Alphonsus Church, built in Southern German neo-Gothic style, dedicated in 1845 and designated an Archdiocesan Shrine in 1995. Main doors of the church


Looking up the front of the tower, reaching 200 feet high. St. Alphonsus Church, possibly the only church in the world to have 2 former pastors canonized as saints, St. John Neumann, canonized in 1977, and Blessed Francis Seelos, beatified in 2000 and currently a candidate for canonization.

Msgr. Arthur W. Bastress, current pastor of St. Alphonsus, shares some history, stories and his thoughts on the church and parish.


We listen to the stories... ...and history of St. Alphonsus.


Main altar Large statues at front of church, St. Boniface, St. Alphonsus, St. Martin of Tours


Deacon Hugh Mills shows us the unusual style tabernacle that rotates to open, with also an area for exposition. The third side of the tabernacle leaving it closed.


The area of floor between the original altar and the forward facing altar where Fr. John Neumann professed his vows and was consecrated as a bishop. The chair used by St. John Neumann while at St. Alphonsus church.


Lighting candles in the Saints chapel. Rosary made by Kaze Puraite from her hair while a prisoner in Siberia.


Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, built over the course of five years from a bequest from Baltimore dry-goods merchant, Thomas J. O'Neill, was dedicated on November 15, 1959.


Dedication piller is just inside the front doors, listing the dates of ground-breaking, consecration and the opening of the catherdral. The Baptistery is located just inside the main entrance to remind us that 'it's through Baptism that we enter into the Church community'.  We reach the Baptism hall by descending three steps, a reminder of Christ's three days in the tomb.


Some of the stone panels on the rear wall of the catherdral recognizing the historical and local connection of the Church to the community.  The ''Ark'' was one of the two ships which brought the first English settlers to Maryland in 1634.

The ''Dove'' was the companion ship to the ''Ark''.  The panel also depicts a torch, a sign of the religious freedom in the Maryland colony.

Below the panel of the ''Ark'' is one of the Seal of the City of Baltimore.

Fr. Daly points to one of the consecration crosses marking the spots on the walls of the cathedral consecrated by Sacred Chrism.

Stone panel showing Fr. Andrew White, S.J., one of the original colonists who arrived in 1634, baptizing the local Indian chief.  This panel shows a direct connection to our religious history in the state of Maryland, from the settlers who arrived with Leonard Calvert, brother of the 2nd Lord Baltimore, the first church on St. Clement's Island in St. Mary's County to the Cathedral of Mary our Queen in Baltimore City.

Below the panel of the ''Dove'' is the Seal of the State of Maryland showing the Calvert coat of arms, the Calvert motto, usually translated to "Manly deeds and womanly words'' and flanked by a figure of a farmer and craftsman representing the agriculture and industry in Maryland.


Shrine dedicated to St. John Marie Baptiste Vianney, patron of our parish and also patron saint of all parish priests. Cornerstone of the cathedral, laid by Archbishop Francis Patrick Keough on May 31, 1955.


Altar dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel, our defender in the battle against evil.  Our Lady's Chapel

Kneeler in the archbishop's robing room...


...before the shrine honoring the appearance of Our Lady at Guadalupe in 1531 Procession crucifix used when the archbishop is celebrating Mass.


Cathedral Crypt beneath the main floor of the church, reserved for the burial of archbishops of Baltimore and auxiliary bishops who assist them. We listen and learn more about the Cathedral of Mary our Queen.


The high altar and baldachin (canopy) sit on a foundation that is entirely separate from the rest of the church, recalling the ancient concept of the church being built around the altar. The cathedra, or chair, of the archbishop, is surmounted by the coat of arms of the Archdiocese: a blue and white (Marian colors) shield quartered by the Calvert cross in red and white (thus red, white and blue also for our country). The shield is topped by a miter, indicating that it's the crest of a diocese.  The back of the chair has the coat of arms of the current Archbishop of Baltimore, William Cardinal Keeler.


Looking down the main aisle of the nave from the sanctuary. Chapel dedicated to Christ's true presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Tabernacle in the Blessed Sacrament chapel is reminiscent of the Ark of the Covenant with angels spreading their wings on either side.

  Photography and Captions by Sharon Seckens

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