A Historic Philadelphia Church: Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul

A Historic Philadelphia Church: Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul

Philadelphia's Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul is one of four famous churches Pope Francis visited during his apostolic journey to the United States.  Get a glimpse inside this church and discover what its design reveals about American religious history.  By Ansley Roan

  • Guideposts: Pope Francis will visit the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul

    Philadelphia Church Welcomes Pope Francis

    When Pope Francis arrived in Philadelphia on Saturday, Sept. 26., one of his first stops was the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, where he celebrated Mass. This historic church was completed during the Civil War, at a time when there was tension and sometimes violence between Catholics and Protestants. 

    The active parish (a recent Sunday morning Mass was well-attended) put up the banner welcoming the pope weeks before his arrival.

  • Guideposts: Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia

    A Historic Cathedral

    The cathedral's construction was just one major event in the long history of Catholic life in Philadelphia. On April 8, 1808, Pope Pius VII established Baltimore as the first archdiocese in the United States and created four new dioceses. One of the four was the diocese of Philadelphia, which included the state of Delaware and half of New Jersey,  about 43,000 square miles.

    The cathedral's cornerstone was laid on September 6, 1846 . At the time, there were an estimated 100,000 Catholics in Philadelphia, out of a population of one million. The cathedral was completed in 1864, during the Civil War. 

  • Guideposts: Statues of the two patron saints, Peter and Paul, are installed in niches in the exterior of the church.

    Saints Peter and Paul

    Statues of the two patron saints, Peter (left) and Paul, are installed in niches in the exterior of the cathedral, which is the largest Catholic cathedral in Pennslyvania. The facade of the building is made of brownstone brought from quarries in Connecticut and Northern New Jersey. 

  • Guideposts: Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul

    Pope to Celebrate Mass in Philadelphia

    In a renovation in 1956 and 1957, this semi-circular apse, including the stained glass windows, was added. These stained glass windows are a sign of the changing religious landscape. 

    When the church was built, Catholics were a minority in Philadelphia. Anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant riots had occurred, and Catholic churches had been burned. 

    During construction in the 1800s,  no windows were included in the ground-level of the cathedral to prevent vandalism.  Stained glass windows were placed in the dome, about seventy-five to one hundred feet above street level.  Some lightly tinted windows to allow natural light were included below the dome. According to legend,  the architect and construction workers threw rocks to determine how to place those windows so they could not be broken by vandals.

     

  • Guideposts: Our Lady of Guadalupe

    Our Lady of Guadalupe

    The shrine honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas, is a mosaic. 

  • Guideposts: Statue of the Virgin Mary

    A Side Chapel

    The cathedral includes 8 side chapels like this one, most honoring saints.

  • Guideposts: Mass in the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul

    Modeled after the Lombard Church of St. Charles in Rome, the cathedral is the only church in the United States in the Roman-Corinthian style. The cathedral's walnut pews seat approximately 1,240 people, 1,500 with extra chairs,  and the floors are made of marble.

  • Guideposts: The Dome of Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia.

    The Dome of the Cathedral

    The cathedral's dome, green oxidizied copper, is an iconic Christian symbol visible from the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia. The pope celebrated an outdoor Mass on the parkway on Sunday that drew approximately 800,000 people.

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