Every day as I walk to work, the most amazing backdrop unfolds, and the landmarks along my walk open up between the morning light and afternoon’s sunset. Many of these buildings are old, from the 1880’s, a prosperous time for Baltimore.

This photograph is of a detail on the Basicillica in Baltimore, the oldest in this country, and recently renovated. Here’s what their website says:

The historic Baltimore Basilica, built from 1806-1821, was the first great metropolitan cathedral constructed in the United States after the adoption of the Constitution. America’s First Cathedral, officially known as the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, quickly became a symbol of the country’s newfound religious freedom.

Two prominent Americans guided the Basilica’s design and architecture: John Carroll, the country’s first bishop, later Archbishop of Baltimore, and cousin of Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence; and Benjamin Henry Latrobe, father of American architecture, and Thomas Jefferson’s Architect of the Capitol.

Laying of the cornerstoneFor more than 100 years until the American Revolution, the Catholic Church consisted of a persecuted but devout minority. With the adoption of the new Constitution, Church leaders wanted to build a cathedral to celebrate their newly acquired right to worship openly. Bishop Carroll adopted the forward-looking neoclassical architecture of the new federal city in Washington. He wanted an architectural symbol that was considered “American,” not Gothic and reminiscent of the Dark Ages in Europe.

Learning of Bishop Carroll’s effort, Latrobe volunteered his architectural services. President Jefferson’s insistence on skylights for the U.S. Capitol inspired Latrobe and his design for the Cathedral’s grand dome. The Basilica, which culminated years of architectural refinement by Latrobe, is now considered one of the world’s finest examples of 19th century architecture.

“When the Cathedral was first constructed, the only building that could compete with it in size, scale, and architectural sophistication was the United States Capitol,” said Jack Waite, Principal Architect with John G. Waite Associates, Architects. “Architecturally, it was the most advanced building in the country.”

Prelates of the Second Plenary CouncilSituated majestically on a hill above Baltimore Harbor, the historic Basilica was the center of the country’s first archdiocese, from which two-thirds of U.S. Catholic dioceses can trace their heritage. Under its auspices also came a series of other firsts, including the first order of African-American Religious, the Oblate Sisters of Providence, founded by Mother Mary Lange.

So, pretty interesting stuff, but the devil, as they say, is in the details  . . .

This is part of the iron gate that surrounds the Basicillica.

Baltimore is so vastly different than Washington DC where I grew up. It’s real here, and our architecture reflects this reality: a working harbor, steel mills, longshoremen, hard working structures for hard working folks. Washington is beautiful, but its buildings reflect a homogenized facade in an attempt to project a visual national harmony. you’ll see a more realistic Washington if you Drive into town along New York Avenue, or cross Key Bridge from Arlington into Georgetown. But I digress.


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