The Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul is not only the biggest Catholic church in Philadelphia, it’s the largest in the entire state of Pennsylvania. It was built between 1846 and 1864 in the Roman-Corinthian style based on designs by Napoleon LeBrun, a Philadelphia architect who also designed the Academy of Music in Philadelphia and is now buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery. Architect John Notman designed the façade and dome after LeBrun left over a disagreement with the Bishop – Notman is noted for his designs for, among other buildings, the Church of the Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square and the Athenaeum of Philadelphia. The plot is on the site of the former Farmers’ Life and Trust Company of New York City, which went out of business in 1845.
The interior of the church could seat 2,000 congregants and it had deliberately high windows to avoid vandalism, as anti-Catholicism was high at the time – builders actually enlisted the strongest workmen to throw stones in the air to see how high the windows should be so they would not be broken. Public sentiment against Irish immigrants was high and efforts to keep them from voting, holding office, or compete for jobs were at their peak – in 1844 Catholic homes and religious buildings in Kensington were attacked and burned, people were killed, and the Governor was forced to call in 5,000 troops to calm the riots.
There is a stairway behind the main altar that leads to the Crypt of the Bishops, which contains the remains of 20 notables including Saint Katherine Drexel. Rising 156 over the floor of the Cathedral, the dome features a stained glass window of Mary holding Jesus flanked by windows depicting Saints Peter and Paul. The Cathedral is open for visitors at different hours Saturday through Monday (check their website for times), and is worth a visit if you are in the Art Museum area as it is one of Philadelphia’s most notable architectural sites.
Matthew Christopher PA Philadelphia Oct 21, 2022 Architecture Places to Visit
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Matthew Christopher Oct 21, 2022
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