Cathedral of the Holy Cross (Boston)

The Cathedral of the Holy Cross is the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston and is the largest Roman Catholic church in New England.[2]

Cathedral of the Holy Cross
Western façade of the Cathedral, as seen from Washington Street
42°20′26″N 71°04′10″W / 42.340693°N 71.069344°W / 42.340693; -71.069344
Location1400 Washington Street
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
CountryUnited States of America
DenominationRoman Catholic Church
(also parish church)
DedicatedDecember 8, 1875
Functional statusActive
Architect(s)Patrick Keely
StyleGothic Revival
GroundbreakingApril 29, 1866
Capacity1,700 people
Length364 feet
Width90 feet
Height120 feet
MaterialsRoxbury puddingstone and gray limestone
ArchbishopHis Eminence, Seán Patrick Cardinal O'Malley, O.F.M. Cap.
RectorThe Very Reverend Monsignor Kevin J. O’Leary
Vicar(s)Reverend Pablo Gomis
Deacon(s)Ricardo M. Mesa
Organist/Director of musicRichard J. Clark
Part ofSouth End District
NRHP reference No.73000324[1]
Added to NRHPMay 8, 1973

When construction was finished, the cathedral rivaled both Old South Church and Trinity Church in grandeur. The cathedral is located in the city's South End neighborhood, at 1400 Washington St. Although the South End was initially developed for Boston's emerging Anglo-Saxon Protestant middle class, the neighborhood transitioned to new immigrants, especially Irish, as middle class owners moved to the new Back Bay neighborhood.

The cathedral functions both as a cathedral and as a parish. The Cathedral Parish consists of large English- and Spanish-speaking congregations, drawn largely from the local area, and also includes three Archdiocese-wide congregations: the Ge'ez Rite practiced by Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Egyptian Catholics; the German Apostolate; and the Tridentine Mass Catholic community. The first of these congregations moved to the cathedral from the nearby Holy Trinity Catholic Church in 1994, the other two in 2008.



In 1860, Bishop John Fitzpatrick recognized that the church in Boston had outgrown the old Holy Cross Cathedral on Franklin St. However, plans for the new cathedral were disrupted by the outbreak of the United States Civil War. Bishop Fitzpatrick died in 1866 and Bishop John Williams took over planning for the cathedral project. Ground was broken on April 29, 1866, and the completed structure was dedicated on December 8, 1875, by Williams, who was by then Boston's first archbishop.[3]

The cathedral was named after the relic of holy cross that is owned by the church. This relic, supposedly a small fragment of the cross from Jesus' crucifixion was on display in the cathedral until 2018 when a janitor discovered that it had been stolen.[4] The relic was eventually returned to the cathedral, and since its theft the relic has only been on display during special dates throughout the liturgical year.

In 2018, the first major renovation of the cathedral began.[5] During the process, approximately 8,000 square feet of reclaimed wood was salvaged from the building.[6] The $26 million renovation was completed on Palm Sunday 2019.[7]



The cathedral was designed by Patrick Keely, a noted ecclesiastical architect, in the Gothic Revival style. Construction commenced in 1867 and was completed in 1875. With local anti-Catholic sentiments a recent memory, the Gothic Revival edifice was intentionally massive, a statement that the Catholics of Boston were here to stay. Bricks from the 1834 riots in Charlestown, in which an Ursuline convent was burned down, were used in the arch over the front door.[8] Built of Roxbury puddingstone with gray limestone trim, it reaches a height of 120 feet. Until the erection of the new Cathedral of St. Joseph (Hartford, Connecticut) in 1957, Holy Cross was the largest cathedral in New England. The building, measuring 364 ft (111 m) in length and 90 ft (27 m) at the transepts, can accommodate about 2,000 worshippers in the main level. There is also an oratory for smaller services in the lower level. A planned western spire was never completed.[3] Supervision of the construction fell largely to Keely and his assistant John A. Dempwolf.[8][9]

The cathedral retains its E. and G.G. Hook and Hastings pipe organ, opus 801, which was installed in 1875. The organ console was replaced in 1929 with a used theatre organ console when the instrument was updated. In 2003, the Andover Organ Company created and installed its opus R-394, a replica of the original three-manual console, and updated wiring and made other needed repairs.[10][11]

Notable events


On January 19, 1964, Richard Cardinal Cushing celebrated a Requiem for President John F. Kennedy that was recorded and broadcast to the nation.[12] The Boston Symphony Orchestra accompanied the Mozart Requiem.[13]

On October 1, 1979, Pope John Paul II held a 38-minute prayer service for 2,000 priests in the cathedral during his first pilgrimage to the United States.[14]

On April 18, 2013, an interfaith prayer vigil in honor of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing took place at the cathedral, with President Barack Obama delivering the eulogy.[15][16]

Cathedral High School


In 1927, Cardinal William O'Connell founded Cathedral High School adjacent to the church and charged the Sisters of St. Joseph with operating the institution. The school remains at this site today.[17]


See also



  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  2. ^ Edwin M. Bacon, Ed. (1886). Boston Illustrated. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company.
  3. ^ a b "About". Cathedral of the Holy Cross. Archived from the original on April 25, 2013. Retrieved July 19, 2011.
  4. ^ Wangsness, Lisa (July 13, 2010). "Relic of cross stolen from cathedral". The Boston Globe. Retrieved September 10, 2018.
  5. ^ "Cathedral Of The Holy Cross Undergoes First Renovation In 150 Years". WBZ News. June 20, 2018. Retrieved August 21, 2018.
  6. ^ "Cathedral of the Holy Cross". Longleaf Lumber, Inc. June 21, 2018. Retrieved August 21, 2018.
  7. ^ Hughes, Lisa (April 5, 2019). "Cathedral Of The Holy Cross Ready For Palm Sunday After $26 Million Renovation". WBZ News. Retrieved November 22, 2019.
  8. ^ a b O'Connor, Thomas H.; O'Toole, James M.; Quigley, David, eds. (2004). "Race, Ethnicity, and Class in Boston's Holy Cross Cathedral". Boston's Histories: Essays in Honor of Thomas H. O'Connor. UPNE. p. 104. ISBN 978-1555535827.
  9. ^ Virtual York: An Architectural Experience: The Dempwolf Contribution to York's Streetscape
  10. ^ "Holy Cross Cathedral, Boston, Massachusetts". Andover Organ Company. Archived from the original on May 13, 2008. Retrieved July 19, 2011.
  11. ^ "E. & G. G. Hook & Hastings Organ, opus 801, 1875" (PDF). American Guild of Organists. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 26, 2010. Retrieved July 19, 2011.
  12. ^ McCabe, Neil (January 23, 2009). "Cardinal Cushing, BSO honored JFK with Mozart's 'Requiem' 45 years ago". The Boston Pilot. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  13. ^ "Kennedy Memorial Service 1964". British Pathé. Reuters. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  14. ^ Mooney, Brian C. (April 3, 2005). "In Boston, America first greeted John Paul". The Boston Globe. Retrieved July 19, 2011.
  15. ^ Nelson, Angela (April 16, 2013). "Upcoming reflection services for victims of the Boston Marathon bombing". The Boston Globe. Retrieved April 16, 2013.
  16. ^ Thistlethwaite, Susan Brooks (April 18, 2013). "Obama preaches 'a state of grace' in Boston". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  17. ^ "About CHS". Cathedral High School. Retrieved July 19, 2011.