One of most historic houses of worship is the U.S. is also a masterpiece of American architecture. This National Historic Landmark includes a 75-foot dome whose design was directly influenced by an intervention from Thomas Jefferson.
The church’s original design was envisioned by America’s first bishop, John Carroll, and as planned by renowned architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe (who went on to design the U.S. Capitol). After the U.S. Constitution established full freedom of religion, Carroll made America’s first cathedral an unmistakable statement, choosing a design along the lines of other Neoclassical buildings that represented American freedom and democracy.
Built from 1806-1821, the Basilica reopened in November 2006 after a major restoration that returned the church to its original historic design. The newly restored basilica shows a grand porch of Greek Ionic columns, a low, copper-covered dome and walls made of a hard silver-grey local stone called “Ellicott City granite.”
As America’s first Catholic cathedral, the basilica has been the elder statesman of American Catholic history, hosting significant events and high profile visitors including Saint (Mother) Teresa of Kolkata and Pope St. John Paul II, who called the building “the worldwide symbol of religious freedom.”
The basilica offers daily free tours by docents. Make sure to visit the Pope John Paul II prayer garden, it features a statue of the Holy Father with two children, based on a photograph taken during John Paul’s visit to the basilica in 1995.