Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels
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Benjamin Henry Latrobe, along with President Thomas Jefferson, are the first two American architects of international stature.

President Thomas Jefferson had admired the work of Latrobe in Virginia and asked him to come to Washington D.C. to help create something worthy of this young nation. In 1803, Latrobe started with the south wing of the U.S. Capitol, and went on to complete the entire complex, a monumental project commanding most of his working life.

In 1805, Latrobe volunteered his architectural services to design America’s first Cathedral, often called “the most beautiful church in North America.“ It is considered his masterpiece.


Born in in Yorkshire, England, in 1764.

Studied at Moravian schools in Germany; toured Germany, France, and Italy, where he became interested in architecture.

In England, became an engineer and then an architect.

In America 1796, commissioned to work on the Virginia State. Penitentiary, Bank of Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia Waterworks, and the first U.S. Naval Drydocks in Maryland.

Asked by President Jefferson to come to Washington in 1803 to serve as the Surveyor of the Public Buildings for the U.S. Government.

Designed the south wing of the U.S. Capitol and asked to complete the U.S. Capitol.

Credited with introducing America to the Gothic and Neoclassical revival styles of architecture.


Born in Maryland, Father Carroll came from an Irish Catholic family who was fiercely patriotic and very loyal to their new country.

He began his ministry as a Jesuit in Europe. Returning to Maryland in 1773, he began his pastoral work in the mission serving colonial America. At that time, the Catholic Church in America was considered missionary territory. After the American Revolution, Pope Pius VI created the Diocese of Baltimore, which encompassed the 13 original colonies, and appointed him its first bishop.

Bishop Carroll, his brother Daniel and cousin, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, were integral in advocating the provisions in the U.S. Constitution protecting freedom of religion. Embracing the optimism of the new republic, he chose the architecture of America’s first cathedral to be a symbol of the Catholic commitment to these ideals.

Born in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, in 1735.

Ordained a Jesuit priest when he was 34. Educated in Europe, returned to America as a missionary in 1773.

In 1784, appointed first ”Superior of the Mission of the Thirteen United States“, and authorized to guide the infant Church in this country.

Established Georgetown University; St. Mary’s Seminary, Baltimore; Mount St. Mary’s College and Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

In 1776, sent by the Continental Congress with Benjamin Franklin and two others on an unsuccessful mission to Quebec to persuade French Canada to join in the revolution.

In 1789, Pope Pius VI created the Diocese of Baltimore with Carroll as its first bishop.

In 1804, became responsible for the territories in the Louisiana Purchase.

In 1808, named the first archbishop in the United States.

In 1810, ordained in Baltimore the first Bishops of Philadelphia, Boston and Bardstown.

His cousin, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, was the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence.

His brother, Daniel, was one of the only two Catholic signers of the U.S. Constitution.

He died in December 1815, after serving 25 years as bishop and archbishop.

James Cardinal Gibbons was a patriot who also recognized the needs of the expanding Church, which included converts and immigrants. His vision was that the United States was an ideal place for the Church to carry out its mission. In Faith of Our Fathers, his words echo his beliefs when he writes:
“From my heart, I say: America, with all thy faults, I love thee still.
Perhaps at this moment there is no nation on the face of the earth where the Church is less trammeled, and where she has more liberty to carry out her sublime destiny than in these United States.”

He felt that the Church as well as the country embraced similar notions of liberty and justice. Although both face difficulties in the changing times, they have the necessary tools to overcome these problems. Thus, he worked for improved labor conditions, the freedom for all Catholics to participate fully in the nation as well as in other noble causes in the nineteenth century.


Born on July 23, 1834 in Baltimore. Baptized in the Baltimore Basilica.

Ordained a priest in the chapel of St. Mary’s Seminary in 1861.

Selected as secretary by Archbishop Spalding for his faith and his diligence in doing the Lord's work .

Selected by Pope Pius IX to take on the apostolic responsibilities of the first bishop to serve in North Carolina in 1868.

Just 34 years old, youngest bishop of the Catholic world at the time.

Embraced by the public, his rhetorical style and amiable presence enabled him to express convictions in a delicate yet effective manner.

Served as vicar apostolic of North Carolina.

Appointed to serve as bishop of Richmond in 1872.

Returned to Baltimore in May of 1877 as coadjutor archbishop.

Succeeded to the office of Archbishop of Baltimore, on the death of Archbishop James Roosevelt Bayley in 1878.

Selected by Pope Leo XIII to preside over the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884.

Archbishop Gibbons was made a cardinal priest in June of 1886.


The Great Dome

The Basilica’s large dome was originally a source of light, together with the original windows of translucent glass. Twenty-four skylights ringed the outer dome providing light for the whole building. Light filtered indirectly through the oculus of the inner dome creating what Latrobe termed ”lumiere mysterieuse”. In 1904, the exterior dome was covered with gold leaf, which lasted for 20 years; it was later replaced by copper. By 1946, the deteriorating skylight frames and their heavy glass in the outer dome were removed. This last major renovation tried to replicate the natural light that once streamed into the drum of the dome with artificial light. Thanks to the assistance of the Getty Grant Program, the natural light of the 24 skylights will grace the Basilica once more.

The Byzantine towers

The Basilica twin towers do not conform to Latrobe’s Design #7 of 1808. These show small saucer shaped domes in their place. Recent scholarship however suggest several clues that Latrobe was indeed inclined toward the Byzantine finials. It is known that Latrobe's son, who was fiercely protective of his father's work, was responsible for finishing the towers between 1830 and 1838. In his writings, Latrobe considered all architectural elements of the Roman Empire as part of the lexicon of western architecture. Additionally, he considered the tower to have religious significance in architecture. The spires of Christian churches, the minarets of Islam or the onion domes of Eastern Orthodoxy can serve as examples.

The Portico

Money was not available to complete the portico at the Basilica’s dedication in 1821. Latrobe’s son, John H. B. Latrobe submitted plans for the portico’s foundation in 1841. It was not until the 1860’s that Eben Faxon was chosen as the architect to finally carry out the work for the portico entrance. This large porch is 61 feet across by 25 feet deep and made of tan New Brunswick freestone. The ten fluted columns are 35.5 feet high and crowned by highly ornamented capitals admirably carved with a chisel. A huge 19th-century lantern of wrought iron and brass and of Georgian design is suspended above the west door.

The Crypt

In 1879, Baltimore architect Ephraim Baldwin added the northeast sacristy. With the sanctuary still too small, Cardinal James Gibbons again turned to Baldwin in 1890 (after the death of the John H.B. Latrobe, the guardian of his father’s masterpiece) to extend the head of the Latin cross cathedral. Latrobe’s easternmost range of bays were replaced with a third domed crossing and the new east wall was given a variation of Latrobe’s apse with a bald or skylight dome. Below the extended sanctuary, a new formal crypt area was outfitted in 1900 for the archbishops of Baltimore.

The Fence & Sexton’s Lodge
The granite, marble and iron railing around the grounds of the Basilica was designed by Robert Cary Long, Jr. and erected in 1841. Long also designed the sexton’s lodge, built to the northwest of the church.

The French Bells

The tower bells, cast in France by Joseph Frerejean and installed in the south tower on July 27, 1831, were a tribute to Archbishop Ambrose Marechal by priests of the archdiocese. The larger bell is 3,500 lbs. and is ornamented by six bands of tracery and two medallions, one of the Crucifixion and one of the Madonna and Child. The smaller one has three bands of tracery with medallions of the Good Shepherd and of the Mother and Divine Infant.

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