FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 2, 2006
Contact: Carol Anne Baker, Media Relations Specialist
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NEW EXHIBITION AT VIRGINIA HISTORICAL SOCIETY CELEBRATES
ARCHITECTURAL LEGACY OF SACRED HEART CATHEDRAL
Cathedral of the Sacred Heart: A Centennial Celebration is on display March 4–August 6, 2006
Richmond, VA – One hundred years ago, Richmond celebrated the dedication of a grand new cathedral that owes its existence to a convert to Catholicism. A new exhibition at the Virginia Historical Society (VHS) celebrates the 2006 centennial anniversary of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus by interpreting the cathedral’s construction and the changes that have shaped it over the past 100 years. The exhibition will also look at the architect, Joseph McGuire, his other works, and the patronage of Thomas Fortune and Ida Barry Ryan, whose generous philanthropy made the cathedral possible. Cathedral of the Sacred Heart: A Centennial Celebration is on display through August 6, 2006.
After the American Revolution, the new United States showed a more tolerant attitude toward Catholics than had been seen in Colonial America. This détente in religious tension came from both the ideal of religious freedom in the new government and the air of gratitude extended to France—a Catholic nation—for their help in the War for Independence. The Diocese of Baltimore, created in 1789, was the first Roman Catholic See in the United States. The Diocese of Richmond came thirty years later in 1820 and included what is today both Virginia and West Virginia. The first cathedral of this diocese, St. Peter's, was completed in 1834 and still operates as a downtown parish from its original building at Grace and Eighth streets.
St. Peter's suffered some damage because of neglect and wear (it functioned as a hospital during the Civil War). At the same time, Richmond's Catholic community was growing. In 1882, a call went out to construct a larger place of worship, and after a twenty year campaign to raise money, Nelson County native Thomas Fortune Ryan and his wife, Ida Barry Ryan, donated $500,000 to complete construction of the new cathedral. The two lots, sitting side by side and bounded on the west by Cherry Street and on the east by Laurel Street, had already been purchased by two of the diocese's bishops in the late 1800s. At the time, the site was considered the western end of the City of Richmond.
The Ryans—convert Thomas Fortune from Virginia and lifelong Catholic Ida Barry from Baltimore—had a long career of philanthropy supporting the Catholic Church (donating as much as twenty million dollars and as many as twenty churches, schools, and hospitals in Virginia alone), and the arts in general. The Ryans were patrons of well-known artists Auguste Rodin and Joaquín Sollora as well as Richmond explorer Richard Byrd. They also funded the mural series the Four Seasons of the Confederacy painted by Charles Hoffbauer within the Confederate Memorial Institute, now a part of the Virginia Historical Society.
New York architect Joseph Hubert McGuire drew up plans for the new cathedral. At the time his professional resumé included a private residence and a number of smaller churches. The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart would be his first major work and, many agree, one of his greatest. The cornerstone, hollowed out so that a small metal box could be placed inside, was laid in June 1903 before an audience estimated at 5,000. The metal box contained copies of the Times-Dispatch and News Leader, coins and metals from that year, and a parchment with an inscription in Latin describing the cathedral and the circumstances of its construction.
Construction of the cathedral was completed in 1906, and the church held a dedication mass on Thanksgiving Day that year. Almost immediately after construction, changes were made to the interior. The most extensive changes were brought about by the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) and included a new altar to allow the priest to face the congregation and transformation of the Baptistery originally located under the south tower into a confessional. The Rambusch Glass and Decorating Company, designers whose impressive resume features 100 years and more than 45,000 design commissions for churches and such Richmond favorites as the Jefferson Hotel and the Virginia State Capitol, received the commission for two major interior decoration campaigns that coincided with the cathedral's 25th and 50th anniversaries.
The exhibition features objects, photographs, a Rodin sculpture, and material from the Valentine Richmond History Center, the cathedral's own archives, the Virginia Historical Society, and various Catholic churches. Educational programming for Cathedral of the Sacred Heart: A Centennial Celebration includes a gallery walk through the exhibition by Stephanie A. T. Jacobe, guest curator, at noon on April 5, 2006. This exhibition was made possible with generous support from the Cathedral Centennial Committee at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The Virginia Historical Society is located at 428 N. Boulevard. The Story of Virginia, An American Experience,
a 10,000-square-foot exhibition with more than a thousand objects covering all of Virginia history from prehistoric
times to the present is featured in the Robins Center for Virginia History. Hours: Monday-Saturday 10am - 5pm
and Sunday 1pm - 5pm (Museum Galleries only). Admission: $5/adults, $4/seniors 55+ ($2/Tuesdays–galleries
only), $3/children and students, free/members. Admission to the galleries is free on Sundays. For group tour
information, call (804) 342-9652. For more information, please call (804) 358-4901 or visit