Cathedral of the Holy Cross Shines Bright After Two-year Renovation

New Worship Space to Debut Palm Sunday

If there were ever an appropriate phrase for the massive renovation of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End, it would be, ‘Let there be light.’

That scripturally appropriate phrase is also very appropriate for the astonishing $26 million renovation performed – and now completed – at the Cathedral on Washington Street, the home church of the Archdiocese of Boston.

After closing the main sanctuary for renovations in May 2017, the Cathedral will re-open this Sunday, April 14, for Palm Sunday Masses with Cardinal Sean O’Malley. The opening will also feature a blessing for the Marathon runners as well.

“We are thrilled to re-open the doors of our Cathedral to the South End and all of Boston, not just as the spiritual home for Boston’s Catholics but also as a community center and resource to all our neighbors,” said Very Rev. Kevin O’Leary, Rector of the Cathedral.

Walking into the new sanctuary space, one is awe-struck by the brightness, the light color palette on the walls, the new lighting and the unbelievably ornate and gilded vaulted ceiling.w

Much of the Cathedral’s sanctuary was drab and very dark before the renovations – with unfortunate paint jobs over things like the ceiling and some of the back gilding behind the altar.

All of those things and more have been corrected, said spokesman Michael Kieloch.

“Every square inch has been touched by some sort of work,” he said. “There isn’t anything here that hasn’t been worked on in some way…Everything here is now more vibrant and lighter and more accessible.”

Another key element is a brand new front worship space with a quatrefoil cross embedded in the brand new stone floor. The altar and baptismal in the front space is much more open and light – and great pains were taken to match the new elements with the classic altar.

“I think the truly amazing part is the new combination altar and baptismal blend so well together,” he said. “The new elements come together seamless with the 19th Century high altar in the back. You can’t tell one is from the 1870s and one is from 2019…They actually did some research and found the quarry in Italy where the stone for the high altar came from and used that stone for the new elements. They really wanted to get the appearance just right.”

Even the scrollwork behind the altar is an overlooked, but very interesting, part of the renovation. While it had been painted over, preservationists were able to look at old black and white photographs to see what the back of the altar looked like. They used those photographs to recreate the design that is now on the walls.

The 19th Century German stained glass windows were also fixed, improved and preserved. Those windows are one of the largest collections of German stained glass in North America, and Kieloch said the detail in fixing them was incredible – even in windows at the very top that people would like never see up close.

The most important component, however, was that they were able include new fire suppression systems, a new heating system, a new cooling system, a new video camera system and important handicap access upgrades.

“There are a lot of things that are really important that we did that people might not be able to see, but they are critical,” said Kieloch. “The electrical system was in big trouble. We had 1940s wiring grafted onto 1920s wiring. A lot of the people working on this said if we hadn’t done this now, we might not have had a Cathedral in the near future.”

Not to be lost is the cleaning and repair of the massive, 5,900-pipe Hook & Hastings organ. That will be unveiled in full later in the summer when construction dust has been fully cleared out.

One nice touch for the community is that they decided to have all of the stained glass windows backlit so that they can be seen prominently at night as people travel up and down Washington Street.

“Now, it will stand out at night like the landmark it is and hopefully it makes it look more inviting too,” he said.

The architect for the project was Elkus Manfredi and the general contractor was Suffolk Construction.

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