With the Catholic Bishops of Ohio meeting just steps away from me before their lunch with Governor Kasich last Thursday, I joined a group of eighth graders from St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School in Kettering on a midday tour of St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown Columbus. Our guide was David Garick, the editor of The Catholic Times.
To begin, Mr. Garick gave us a rundown on some diocesan history. Overcrowding in Holy Cross and St. Patrick, the two original Catholic churches in Columbus, together with a desire to build a new church with a more central location in the city, led to the cathedral’s construction. Two lots at the corner of Broad and Fifth Streets were purchased in April 1866. After the cornerstone was laid at the southeast corner of the building on November 11 of that year, work began on building a church that would feature the pointed arches, columns, buttresses and dressed pedestals of the High French Gothic style. When it was completed in 1878, the cathedral measured 92 feet wide and 185 feet deep, with three-feet-thick walls standing over 40 feet tall. It cost about $220,000 to build.
Handcut sandstone for the cathedral’s exterior came from the Black Hand formation in Licking County near Hanover Township. Grooves were cut into the surface of the stone to make it appear less drab and allow light to give it texture and depth. The limestone used around the doors came from Fairfield County, the windows are cased in freestone from Pickaway County, and the brackets and steps were cut from Columbus limestone. The interior walls have a sandstone finish, while the groined arches of the ceiling are painted plaster to match the appearance of the sandstone walls. The cathedral’s original main altar was made of marble that came from the same quarries in New York that produced the marble used for the interior of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.
When the cathedral was dedicated on October 20, 1878, a two-mile long parade took place through Downtown. Presiding over the event was Sylvester Rosecrans, the 52-year-old first bishop of Columbus who had studied at Kenyon College and had converted to the Catholic faith with his brother, William, a West Point-trained architect who rose to the rank of Major General in the Union Army during the Civil War. The day after the dedication, Bishop Rosecrans died. He is buried in the cathedral’s undercroft, along with The Most Rev. Edward Hermann, who served as Bishop of the Diocese of Columbus from 1973 to 1982.
In 1914, renovations to the cathedral included the construction of a new main altar, side altars, and a marble communion railing. More remodeling occurred in 1978.
Enter the cathedral from Broad Street, pass through the vestibule, and arrive in the narthex, where baptisms take place. Statues of St. Francis DeSales, patron saint of the Diocese of Columbus, and Saints Anne and Anthony, minor patrons of the diocese, are also there.
From here, you can admire the cathedral’s interior.
At the southwest corner of the cathedral, you’ll find the reconciliation room. Originally, Italian emigrants attended Mass there until St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Italian Village was built. Today, the room also features three silver urns containing the holy oils that are blessed during the Chrism Mass of Holy Week.
We learned about the attention-getting structure over the altar, called a baldachin (from
baldacchino, the Italian word used to describe a canopy of state). Symbolic of a holy space, the baldachin is decorated with carvings of fruit and foliage.
The sunny day made the cathedral’s stained glass windows even more magnificent. In 1914, the windows were commissioned from a Munich stained glass firm, but the finished products were delayed because of World War I. The ornate, symbolic Renaissance-style windows alternate between depictions of the Apostles and of scenes from the lives of the Holy Family. The clerestory windows illustrate the Litany of the Blessed Virgin. The mosaic Stations of the Cross, dating from the tenure of Bishop John Carberry, glistened in the light.
Standing beside the Shrine of St. Joseph and the cathedra, the chair where the bishop presides when he says Mass, we admired other beautiful features of the cathedral’s interior.
In the apse behind the altar, wall niches are adorned with circa-2002 oil paintings of Christ the King, Mary, Joseph and four angels, all interpreted in the traditional seventeenth century Flemish/Dutch style by local artist Grzegorz Kucharski, a Polish emigrant. Kucharski’s two daughters posed for the angels, while his wife was the model for Mary.
The cathedral’s original altar and stained glass windows depicting Christ at Emmaeus are the highlights of the Terce Chapel, originally the sacristy. It is also where the cathedral’s collection of 22 relics can be venerated.
In addition to those relics attributed to St. Paul, St. Lucy, St. John Vianney and other saints, there are two relics of the True Cross, which are venerated on Good Friday. This is one of them.
The Shrine of Our Lady features a carved wooden statue of Our Lady, Queen of Heaven. The statue is flanked by representations of Our Lady’s parents, Anne and Joachim, as well as King David and Jesse.
The grand gallery organ, often the star of the cathedral’s seasonal music programs, weighs over 14 tons and has three manual keyboards and 5,000 pipes.
More unique features can be seen downstairs in the cathedral’s undercroft. Constructed in the 1960s, the undercroft features vaulted brick ceilings and pillars constructed from the cathedral’s foundation.
The Our Lady of Sorrows mosaic was a gift from Bishop Carberry when he became Archbishop of St. Louis in 1968.
In Bishop Fulcher’s chapel, there is part of an earlier altar rail, statues which once adorned the interior of the cathedral, a bronze commemoration of the first seven Columbus bishops, and four very retro prayer kneelers.
Renewed in spirit and rid of the “Ugly Stepchild” syndrome, I returned to my new office and told my first Welcome Wagon visitor of the afternoon about what I had seen.
Guided tours of Saint Joseph Cathedral’s interior, undercroft and crypt are available on weekdays and Sunday afternoons by appointment. Contact Michael Elton by e-mail at email@example.com or by telephone at (614) 405-7770.