Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Recalling the Dedication of the Cathedral of Saints Peter & Paul in Philadelphia!

                        Cathedral of Saints Peter & Paul 1865

In 1854 the Cathedral of Saints Peter & Paul in Philadelphia was dedicated by Archbishop Wood on this date.
Initiated by Bishop Kenrick, the project of building the Cathedral lasted over his years of leadership, the tenure of Bishop Neumann and finally completed under Bishop (later Archbishop) Wood. During the years of construction, the faithful Catholics in Philadelphia survived the tragic events of anti-Catholic persecutions and even the burning of Catholic Churches during the Know-Nothing Riots. Despite the pervasive anti-Catholic sentiments the project of constructing the Cathedral continued.

A visitor to the Cathedral-Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul today doesn't always realize that the cathedral was built without lower-level stained glass. The only stained glass windows in the cathedral are strategically placed in a high location, so that angry mobs of anti-Catholics could not throw bricks through the windows and potentially torch the edifice during the turbulent events of the mid-1800's. It has even been said, that when planning the placement of the highly elevated stained glass windows, Bishop Neumann held a brick throwing contest in order to determine the greatest height a burly Irish bricklayer could hurl a brick. After that determination, the windows were then placed ten feet higher, just to be sure. While I have not been able to find documentary evidence of this brick-throwing contest, it lends a particular twist to the epic story that accompanies the construction of the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. I will continue the research however, just to validate or dispel the story. Regardless of the authenticity, it indicates the great determination Catholics in Philadelphia had in building their, "Mother Church!"

Over the years, I have paid many visits to the Cathedral-Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul for many spectacular events such as the Eucharistic Congress in 1976, the visit of John-Paul II in 1979 or the many ordinations of fellow seminarians to the Priesthood or Episcopate. All of these visits and events have always left me with a spiritual awe over the historical and spiritual significance that continues to transcend the years at this magnificent Cathedral, the beating heart of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Philadelphia Catholics should make a particular point to visit the Cathedral. It is their spiritual home and the central point of spirituality for their Catholic faith that is guided by the Archbishop of Philadelphia, Justin Cardinal Rigali. The Cathedral stands for the greatest appreciation and implementation of the principles of celebration we hold as sacred as Catholics. The liturgical celebrations at the cathedral, with the Cardinal-Archbishop of Philadelphia fully elaborate on the age old principle the Church holds in the highest esteem, "Lex Orandi! Lex Credendi! TheChurch prays as the Church believes! Philadelphia Catholics should be thankful that the highest attention to the details of the Sacred Liturgy are observed in their Cathedral. It shows very clearly that Cardinal Rigali is committed to the proper celebration of our Catholic liturgy and promotes a devotion towards Catholic art and architecture that is not always known outside of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

While the Cathedral-Basilica has undergone many renovations since the consecration by Archbishop Wood, one thing remains constant; it is the place of the cathedra, or chair of the Archbishop of Philadelphia. It is from this location, that the spiritual growth and sacramental life of the Church of Philadelphia flows. A Cathedral, is not only the place the local bishop calls home, it is also the place from where the Eucharistic Mystery is celebrated by the bishop as the Shepard of His Diocese.

The commemoration of the dedication of the Cathedral-Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul has been moved liturgically to June 30, so not to diminish the Solemnity of Saints Peter & Paul assigned by the Roman Calendar to June 29. Regardless of the day, Philadelphia Catholics should celebrate both days as festivities in their cathedral that symbolize the co-patrons of the Archdiocese, Saints Peter & Paul, the magnificent edifice of  our Cathedral-Basilica and the filial obedience and fidelity the Catholic Church in Philadelphia gives freely to the Holy See.

The Cathedral-Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul is celebrating its 146 anniversary of dedication this year. Don't forget to remember kindly, the temporal requirements needed to preserve and maintain the oldest building on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The Cathedral-Basilica has been the spiritual home of Philadelphia Catholics from the middle of the nineteenth century, help financially to keep it well into the twenty-first century of Catholic life in the City of Brotherly Love.

Before I forget, many thanks to the kind staff of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's Historical Research Center located at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, in the underworld of Saint Martins Chapel. They provided the photograph of the Cathedral in 1856, which according to them is the oldest photo of the Cathedral in their historical collection. The photo is reproduced and published with their permission as well.

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