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Maryland's National Register Properties

Photo credit: MHT File Photo, Undated Photo
Old Roman Catholic Cathedral
Inventory No.: B-131, B-1
Other Name(s): Basilica of the Assumption
Date Listed: 10/23/1969
Location: 408 N. Charles Street, 401-409 Cathedral Street, Baltimore, Baltimore City
Category: Building
Period/Date of Construction: 1806-1863
Architect/Builder: Architect: Benjamin Henry Latrobe, J.H.B. Latrobe, Eben Faxon (portico), Robert Cary Long (Sexton's House)
NHL Date: 11/11/1971
Description: The Roman Catholic Cathedral in Baltimore is a cruciform building with an elongated nave and apse, constructed of brick clad in porphyritic granite. A wooden dome with copper sheathing topped by a simple cross is set on an octagonal drum, and tops the rear portico of the church. The hexastyle front portico, added in 1863, has Ionic columns. The large central door is flanked by two smaller doors and has a square window above to light the choir. Along both sides of the cathedral is a series of small stained glass windows set in recessed arched panels. Plain panels fill the wall space between the windows and cornice. Two square towers with arcaded belfries and onion domes are located on the west end of the nave. These were added from 1831 to 1837. The apse is connected by a covered walk to the Archbishop's residence. Internally, the cathedral is vaulted by several shallow domes, and the entire structure exhibits an exceptionally good mixture of spherical and cube-like shapes. The cathedral lot is surrounded by an iron fence with Greek Revival gateposts at the west entrance to the grounds. This was designed by Robert Cary Long in 1841. Enclosed in the grounds is the Sexton's House, which has been used more recently the actual residence of the Archbishop. This is a two-story brick structure also designed by Long and built in 1840. It has brick quoins and arched first-floor windows. The projecting foyer may be a later addition. Significance: The first Roman Catholic Cathedral built in the United States, the Basilica of the Assumption was designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe. Construction was begun in 1806, on a lot acquired from Col. John Eager Howard, and added to from time to time until it was completed in 1863. In 1789, an Episcopal See had been established in Baltimore and Reverend John Carroll elected the first bishop, with a diocese covering thirteen states. Bishop Carroll ordered the building of the Cathedral and was consecrated Archbishop there in 1808. He is one of seven prelates (including James Cardinal Gibbons) buried in the crypt beneath the archepiscopal throne. In addition, ten Provincial and three Plenary Councils have been held in the Basilica and thirty bishops have been consecrated there. Because of its unique role in the history of the Catholic Church in America, the Cathedral was designated a minor Basilica by Pope Pius XI in 1937. The Cathedral is considered one of the best examples of early Classical Revival architecture in the nation.


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