I love visiting churches, missions, temples, all sorts of places of worship. It doesn’t matter what religion you belong to, it’s pretty hard not to appreciate the beauty and detail of a place of worship. Sacramento’s magnificent Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament is an example of this.
Recently I took my 93 year-old mother on a day trip to Sacramento to tour the 128 year-old Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. The Cathedral had been renovated 10 years ago. It had been closed for two years from 2003 – 2005 while it underwent a massive overhaul and seismic retrofit. The $34.6 million restoration preserved the Victorian interior with its trompe l’oeil, scrolls and stencils. I’m sad to say, neither of us had been to the Cathedral since it reopened in 2005.
The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament is considered to be both a religious and civic landmark. Historians considered the Cathedral to be one of the three most significant historic buildings in Sacramento. (The other two being the State Capitol Building and City Hall.) It is the mother church of the Diocese of Sacramento, which stretches from the southern edge of Sacramento County north to the Oregon border. It serves almost 1,000,000 Roman Catholics.
Mom and I had talked about going not only for the historical value but also because we are Catholic and it is our Cathedral. On a recent Wednesday afternoon we went. All I can say is the Cathedral is stunning!
The Cathedral is situated on the K Street Mall, one block from the State Capitol Building. The architectural style of the church is Italian Renaissance on the exterior and Victorian on the interior. This magnificent cathedral, the largest church west of the Mississippi River when it was built in the late 1880s and still the largest 19th-century church/cathedral in the western US, is a truly magnificent building inside and out.
Our tour started in the vestibule in front of one of the two cartouches that depict two major figures in the history of Northern California. The left cartouche is dedicated to Captain Gabriel Moraga who in 1808 gave the Sacramento River it name. Later the town built on its banks took the same name, Sacramento. On the right side of the doors is a cartouche dedicated to Father Peter Anderson, a Dominican priest, who celebrated and founded the first Mass in the first church in Sacramento. On the wall opposite the cartouche of Moraga is a marble relief of Patrick Monogue (1829 – 1895), the first bishop of Sacramento. Bishop Monogue directed the building of the Cathedral.
The Cathedral is steeped in the history of California. Bishop Monogue is a fascinating part of that history. Like my father’s ancestors, he left Ireland during the potato famine and emigrated to the US. He came to California where he prospected for gold. Bishop Monogue used the money he made gold mining to put himself through the seminary studies in Paris. After his ordination he return to minister to the gold miners as the pastor in Virginia City, NV. Years later he was able to draw on his gold-mining friends to help pay for the Cathedral. (Friends such as John W Mackay of the Big Bonanza, Jane Stanford, wife to Governor Leland Stanford, and the Crockers of the Southern Pacific Crockers.)
Entering the Cathedral proper you will find magnificent stained-glass windows, lovely original pews that have been carefully restored to their original two-tone wood, and incredible tromp l’oeil frescoes. The artwork and the rest of the lavish interior are truly impressive. The stained-glass windows, lovely original pews that have been carefully restored to their original two-tone wood, and incredible tromp l’oeil frescoes. Our tour guide, Tom, went into great detail in describing the restoration, the symbolism of the artwork, and the historical significance of the Cathedral. It has been nicely updated for modern use, but designers tried to keep the Cathedral in the original style. It is handicap accessible with an elevator, larger confessionals to accommodate electric wheelchairs and scooters, and cut-outs in the pews to allow wheelchair access.
The restoration of 2005 placed it baptismal font at the entrance of the Cathedral to symbolize baptism as the sacrament of entrance into the church. The movement is from west to east. In the new testament, Jesus is described as coming like the Rising sun in the east. the design of the floor represents movement from dark to light through the cross.
The beautiful tile floor replaced carpeting. The beautiful two-toned end caps are original, the backs and seat of the pews were replaced. The stained glass windows are the crown jewels of the Cathedral. The windows were a re-leaded and layers of grime cleaned off. You can now see and enjoy the brilliant colors. our guide painstakingly explained there are two types of stained glass windows in the Cathedral- the set make in Austria in the 1800s are among the most valuable colored glass in California. These windows were purchased and donated by Margaret Crocker ( of the transcontinental railroad Crockers.)
Our tour guide, Tom, shared an interesting fact about the relic of Saint Toribio which is sealed into the back of the altar (this is an ancient custom going back to the early church.) Saint Toribio Romo of Jalisco, Mexico, was martyred in 1928 during the persecution of the Catholic Church by the Mexican Government in the 20’s and 30’s. Many of his relatives live in the Sacramento area. Each year over three hundred of his cousins make a pilgrimage to the Cathedral to celebrate his life. The relic was given to the Cathedral by the Bishop of San Juan de Los Lagos in whose diocese Saint Toribio is buried. It was sealed in the altar on during the re-dedication on November 20, 2005.
The altar was made for the 2005 restoration. The white marble is from China and the dark marble from Italy. A relic of Mexican martyr Saint toribio is sealed into the requilary in the back of the altar.
Even without the spiritual connection, the Cathedral is a wonderful place to visit. It is filled with wonderful examples of art and closely tied with the history of California. For more information on the Cathedral and the guided tours, you can visit their website HERE.