Wednesday, July 26, 2017


We were driving/wandering around the streets of Washington, D.C., on our way back to our hotel when Bob suddenly threw on the brakes. "I think we just passed the St. Matthew Cathedral!" he said.

"Huh?" I replied, having NO idea what he was talking about.
We drove around the block, verified that it was indeed St. Matthew's, and found a parking spot.

Bob has a way of "happening upon" interesting places in the most amazing way.

Construction of this Romanesque Revival cathedral began in 1893, and although the first mass was held in 1898, construction wasn't completed until 1913, at which time the church was dedicated. 

St. Matthew, who was a tax collector, is appropriately the patron saint of civil servants. St. Matthew's Cathedral honors those who serve in city, state, and national governments and in the many international organizations in the D.C. area. Wedged into a space among other buildings, the cathedral is suprisingly spacious, with a seating capacity of 1,200.

The altar is backed by a glittering collage of angels floating in an arch over one spectacularly turquoise-winged angel standing guard over the holy evangelist Matthew. It was painted by Edwin Blashfield, who also painted the dome in the ceiling of the Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress.

Note the flag-draped coffin in this photo, which was taken on November 25, 1963, at one of the most famous funerals of my lifetime, that of President John F. Kennedy:
Photo from here
One of the most important "Red Masses" in the world is held annually at this cathedral on the Sunday before the first Monday in October (which is the opening day of the U.S. Supreme Court term). Red Masses originated in the Middle Ages to request God's guidance for those who seek justice--judges, lawyers, law school professors, law students, and government officials. It is called a "Red Mass" because of the red vestments that the clergy typically wear for the event. The Red Mass at St. Matthew's is customarily attended by some Supreme Court Justices, members of Congress and the Cabinet, and others, and even sometimes by the U.S. President.

Who knew? Well, I guess Bob did.

It's also a big deal if the Pope has visited your cathedral. (According to Wikipedia, as of January 2017, there were 3,321 Catholic cathedrals around the world.) Pope Francis was at this one in 2015:

This next mosaic shows a most unusual baptismal scene, and I wish I had a clearer photo of it. The scroll at the top says, "And Matthew was baptizing and preaching in Ethiopia."

Speaking of unusual, this chapel to the left of the nave dedicated to Mary (called "Our Lady's Chapel") has quite a unique statue of Mary, and the mosaics on either side of the statue that depict Mary's lineage are pretty unusual as well. 

Most of the depictions of Mary I have seen show her as passive or contemplative. However, the sculptor of this Mary, Gordon Kray, caught her in an almost impossible pose, not a pose at all, really, but a freeze frame of what appears to be intense movement. The altar beneath the statue is inscribed with the words "Ad Jesum Par Mariam," or "to Jesus through Mary," which leads me to interpret this sculpture as Mary agressively reaching out to each of us with one hand as the other reaches heavenward to Christ. Her skirts are blown against her as if she is in a storm, heightening the rescue imagery.  It has really beautiful "mother" symbolism as well and is my favorite thing in the cathedral:

Our Lady's Chapel also includes a reproduction of Michelangelo's Pieta (made by the man who designed the Iwo Jima sculpture) and a lovely depiction of Mother Teresa in her work with the poor:

. . . as well as statues of St. Ann, the mother of Mary, and Mary with her father Joachim:

As is expected, there are many beautiful chapels and architectural details:

A large chapel is dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua, a Franciscan monk who has many roles, but my favorite is his role as the Patron Saint of Lost Things:

A long mosaic mural depicts people and events important in St. Anthony's life:

The Stations of the Cross are finely crafted bas relief images:

The "Wedding Chapel" shows the betrothal of Joseph and Mary being presided over by God:

The four evangelists are painted in the triangular pieces under the  main dome. Matthew and Mark:

Luke and John:

The organ dates back only to the 1980s but follows a 19th century French design and fits in perfectly with the cathedral architecture:

St. Matthew's Cathedral is definitely a hidden gem worth visiting. Well done, Bob!

On our way back to the car, I snapped a picture of this gorgeous yard. 

Inspiration for future projects at home, perhaps.


  1. You got lots of details I missed. I was impressed how full it was filling up for a 5:00 p.m. mass on the day we visited. Love the description of the unbalanced Mary and the baptism by Matthew I completely missed.

  2. That's an incredible cathedral to stumble upon. I love the Mary statue.