Welcome! This blog celebrates both the local and the catholic -- that is, universal -- aspects of the Roman Catholic Church by sharing reflections on experiences of the Church in a variety of settings and cultures. Postings will come from around the world and around the corner. You don't have to be a Catholic to come along.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cathedrals and Cities

You can't read about the history of the Middle Ages (especially the art history) without reference to the great cathedrals such as Notre Dame and Chartres in France, Canterbury in England, Stefansdom in Vienna, the Duomo of Florence and St. John Lateran, seat of the bishop of Rome.

But cathedrals aren't just for the past, and they aren't just for Europe. They remain important today to American Catholics and American cities. A great example is St. Peter in Chains, the seat of the Archbishop of Cincinnati.

Consecrated in 1845, one architectural authority called it "the handsomest and most monumental of Greek Revival churches." It was magnificently designed by architect Henry Walter, designer of the Ohio State Capital. Nevertheless, by 1938 both St. Peter in Chains and the area around it had badly deteriorated. Archbishop Timothy McNicholas transferred the seat of the bishop some miles away to St. Monica Church as "pro-cathedral."

Another archbishop, Karl J. Alter, made the bold decision in 1951 -- the year after his arrival in Cincinnati -- to renovate St. Peter in Chains. It was a move that helped change the face of Cincinnati, for it touched off an urban revitalization of downtown Cincinnati in the 1950s. With the present transepts, sanctuary, sacristy and rectory added to the building, a newly refurbished St. Peter in Chains resumed its status as a cathedral in 1957.

One of its most distinctive features is a towering mosaic behind the alter depicting Christ bestowing the keys of the kingdom on St. Peter, along with two smaller images of St. Peter imprisoned in Jerusalem and in Rome. The German-made, Byzantine-style mosaic is made of thousands of pieces of Venetian glass.

St. Peter in Chains today is a beehive of activity all year long. A young adult group meets there after Mass once a month. Many parishes hold their confirmations there. Special masses are held there each year for safety workers and for health care workers. Each year the cathedral hosts a "Great Music in a Great Space" concert series that draws people of all religions and no religion. Two years ago the venerable building welcomed a new coadjutor archbishop in a glorious Mass livestreamed on the internet.

The Cathedral Choir is magnificaet, one reason that a new advertising campaign referring to the cathedral's "worship that inspires" is an example of truth in advertising.

As the oldest cathedral west of the Alleghenies still in use as a cathedral, St. Peter has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. But it has not been placed on the shelf.

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