The Baltimore Basilica was founded in 1806 and is one of America’s premier displays of architecture, as well as the first great cathedral built in America after the signing of the Constitution. The basilica, also known as America’s First Cathedral, has been a symbol of religious freedom in America for more than 200 years and is a spectacular sight featuring a massive dome, 24 skylights and a classic European style.
The Baltimore Basilica was constructed between 1806 and 1863, designed by two prominent Americans, including John Carroll, cousin of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Benjamin Henry Latrobe, who is considered the “father of American architecture.” Latrobe was also the principal architect for the United States Capitol. The basilica, which culminated years of refinement by Latrobe, is now considered one of the world’s finest examples of 19th-century architecture.
During construction, the only building that could compete with it in size, scale and architectural sophistication was the United States Capitol. It was considered the most advanced building in the country at the time.
For more than 100 years until the American Revolution, the Catholic Church consisted of a persecuted minority. With the adoption of the Constitution, church leaders wanted to build a cathedral to celebrate their newly acquired right to publicly worship.
As America’s first Catholic cathedral, the basilica is a significant part of Catholic history, hosting important events and high-profile visitors, including Mother Teresa of Kolkata and Pope St. John Paul II, who called the building “the worldwide symbol of religious freedom.” The basilica was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 1, 1969. Until recent years, more priests were ordained at the Baltimore Basilica than in any other church in the United States.
Today, it is the focus of a diverse and revitalized neighborhood, the Mount Vernon Cultural District. Every year, more than 100,000 people visit the basilica, making it one of Baltimore’s top tourist destinations. To experience one of America’s most historic houses of worship and a masterpiece of American architecture, visitors can register to tour the building and gardens through a guided tour or a self-tour. Lectures, concerts and other cultural activities are also held at the Basilica on a regular basis.
The Baltimore Basilica is located at 409 Cathedral St. in Baltimore, Maryland. For more information, visit www.americasfirstcathedral.org.