Cathedral of the Holy Cross (Boston)

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Cathedral of the Holy Cross
North and west facades of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston, Massachusetts
42°20′26″N 71°04′10″W / 42.340693°N 71.069344°W / 42.340693; -71.069344Coordinates: 42°20′26″N 71°04′10″W / 42.340693°N 71.069344°W / 42.340693; -71.069344
Location 1400 Washington Street
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Country United States of America
Denomination Roman Catholic
Status Cathedral
(also parish church)
Dedicated December 8, 1875
Functional status Active
Architect(s) Patrick Keely
Style Gothic Revival
Groundbreaking April 29, 1866
Capacity 1,700 people
Length 364 feet
Width 90 feet
Height 120 feet
Materials Roxbury puddingstone and gray limestone
Archdiocese Boston
Archbishop Cardinal Seán Patrick O'Malley
Rector Kevin J. O’Leary
Vicar(s) Pablo Gomis
Deacon(s) Ricardo M. Mesa
Organist/Director of music Leo D. Abbott
Cathedral of the Holy Cross as it appeared c. 1881

The Cathedral of the Holy Cross is the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston and is the largest Roman Catholic church in New England.[1]

When construction was finished, the cathedral rivaled both Old South Church and Trinity Church in grandeur, signalling the emergence of Roman Catholics in what was, at the time of construction, a largely Protestant city and state.[citation needed]

The cathedral is located in the city's South End neighborhood, at 1400 Washington St. Although the South End was initially developed for Boston's emerging Anglo-Saxon Protestant middle class, the neighborhood transitioned to new immigrants, especially Irish, as middle class owners moved to the new Back Bay neighborhood.

The cathedral functions both as a cathedral and as a parish. The Cathedral Parish consists of large English- and Spanish-speaking congregations, drawn largely from the local area, and also includes three Archdiocese-wide congregations: the Ge'ez Rite practiced by Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Egyptian Catholics; the German Apostolate; and the Tridentine Rite Catholic community. The first of these congregations moved to the cathedral from the nearby Holy Trinity Catholic Church in 1994, the other two in 2008.


In 1860, Bishop John Fitzpatrick recognized that the church in Boston had outgrown the old Holy Cross Cathedral on Franklin St. However, plans for the new cathedral were disrupted by the outbreak of the United States Civil War. Bishop Fitzpatrick died in 1866 and Bishop John Williams took over planning for the cathedral project. Ground was broken on April 29, 1866 and the completed structure was dedicated on December 8, 1875 by Williams, who was by then Boston's first archbishop.[2]

The Cathedral was named after the relic of the holy cross that is owned by the church. This relic, supposedly a small fragment of the cross from Jesus' crucifixion was on display in the Cathedral until 2010 when it was stolen from the church by a janitor.[3] The relic was eventually returned to the Cathedral, and since its theft the relic has only been on display during special dates throughout the liturgical year.

In 2018, the first major renovation of the cathedral began.[4] During the process, approximately 8,000 square feet of reclaimed wood was salvaged from the building.[5]


The cathedral was designed by Patrick Keely, a noted ecclesiastical architect, in the Gothic Revival style. Construction was supervised by John A. Dempwolf.[6] The building, measuring 364 ft (111 m) in length and 90 ft (27 m) at the transepts, can accommodate about 2,000 worshippers in the main level. There is also an oratory for smaller services in the lower level. It is constructed of Roxbury puddingstone with gray limestone trim and reaches a height of 120 ft (37 m). A planned western spire was never completed.[2]

The cathedral retains its E. and G.G. Hook and Hastings pipe organ, opus 801, which was installed in 1875. The organ console was replaced in 1929 with a used theatre organ console when the instrument was updated. In 2003, the Andover Organ Company created and installed its opus R-394, a replica of the original three-manual console, and updated wiring and made other needed repairs.[7][8]

Notable events[edit]

On January 19, 1964, Cardinal Cushing celebrated a Requiem for President John F. Kennedy that was recorded and broadcast to the nation.[9] The Boston Symphony Orchestra accompanied the Mozart Requiem.[10]

On October 1, 1979, Pope John Paul II held a 38-minute prayer service for 2,000 priests in the cathedral during his first pilgrimage to the United States.[11]

On April 18, 2013, an interfaith prayer vigil in honor of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings took place at the cathedral, with President Barack Obama delivering the eulogy.[12][13]

Cathedral High School[edit]

In 1927, Cardinal William O'Connell founded Cathedral High School adjacent to the church and charged the Sisters of St. Joseph with operating the institution. The school remains at this site today.[14]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Edwin M. Bacon, Ed. (1886). Boston Illustrated. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company.
  2. ^ a b "About". Cathedral of the Holy Cross. Retrieved July 19, 2011.
  3. ^ Wangsness, Lisa. "Relic of cross stolen from cathedral". Retrieved 10 September 2018.
  4. ^ "Cathedral Of The Holy Cross Undergoes First Renovation In 150 Years". CBS Boston. June 20, 2018. Retrieved August 21, 2018.
  5. ^ "Cathedral of the Holy Cross". Longleaf Lumber, Inc. Retrieved August 21, 2018.
  6. ^ Virtual York: An Architectural Experience: The Dempwolf Contribution to York's Streetscape
  7. ^ "Holy Cross Cathedral, Boston, Massachusetts". Andover Organ Company. Archived from the original on May 13, 2008. Retrieved July 19, 2011.
  8. ^ "E. & G. G. Hook & Hastings Organ, opus 801, 1875" (PDF). American Guild of Organists. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 26, 2010. Retrieved July 19, 2011.
  9. ^ McCabe, Neil (January 23, 2009). "Cardinal Cushing, BSO honored JFK with Mozart's 'Requiem' 45 years ago". The Boston Pilot. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  10. ^ "Kennedy Memorial Service 1964". British Pathé. Reuters. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  11. ^ Mooney, Brian C. (April 3, 2005). "In Boston, America first greeted John Paul". The Boston Globe. Retrieved July 19, 2011.
  12. ^ Nelson, Angela (April 16, 2013). "Upcoming reflection services for victims of the Boston Marathon bombing". The Boston Globe. Retrieved April 16, 2013.
  13. ^ Thistlethwaite, Susan Brooks (April 18, 2013). "Obama preaches 'a state of grace' in Boston". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  14. ^ "About CHS". Cathedral High School. Retrieved July 19, 2011.

External links[edit]