Basilica of the Assumption
409 Cathedral St., 410/727-3565,
HOURS: Mon.–Fri. 7 a.m.–4:30 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 7 a.m.–conclusion of 5:30 p.m. mass
COST: $2 donation requested for tour
Maryland was founded by Lord Baltimore as a place of religious tolerance, at least in terms of the 17th century; this meant that Catholics (like Lord Baltimore) were more welcome here than in other English colonies. Fittingly, Baltimore is the nation’s oldest Catholic diocese, and the first Catholic cathedral in America was the Basilica of the Assumption, completed in 1821. (The official name of the cathedral is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.)
The imposing building was designed and brought to life by two men: John Carroll, the first American Catholic bishop (and a member of the storied Carroll family); and Benjamin Henry Latrobe, the architect of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. The two men wanted to create a uniquely American cathedral, one that spoke of a new American architecture combined with Rome’s building codes—but a building that did not merely echo European designs. Latrobe’s work on the Capitol gave him the experience and ideas that led to the Basilica’s massive dome. The dome can be seen more clearly today than in recent decades, due to a massive, multimillion-dollar restoration, completed in 2006, that gave the building new life and vitality.
The sweeping skylights, domes, rosettes, and curves of the interior of the Basilica have a delicacy and stately nature that echoes that of the Capitol, but the architecture has a more sacred style—though it doesn’t invoke the often ominous feel of European cathedrals. Tours include the main chapel and church, as well as the undercroft and crypt, where almost all of Baltimore’s archbishops are laid to rest.
© Geoff Brown from Moon Baltimore, 1st Edition