The new cathedral is a reflection of the growth of the Catholic Church in the South.
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The new Cathedral of the Sacred Heart was three years in the making, and was built at a cost of $30.8 million to accommodate the diocese’s enormous growth. It replaces a smaller 580-seat church, and will serve 5,500 people and function as the mother church for the diocese’s 72,000 parishioners.
The imposing cathedral pays tribute to the architecture of the Catholic Church as seen in its greatest European churches. Its dome, in particular, was inspired by the Cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiore in Florence, Italy. Clad in shiny zinc, and topped with a gold cross, it rises 14 stories above ground and can be seen from miles away.
Bishop Richard Stika greeted the more than 1,000 attendees at the dedication Mass with a relieved, “Well, we made it.”
“Praise be Jesus Christ,” he said. “To those visiting us on this special day, welcome to East Tennessee and welcome to the Diocese of Knoxville, which comprises all of East Tennessee. Welcome to Rocky Top, a land surrounded by majestic mountains and lakes galore. Welcome to history and beauty. A warm Southern welcome to you all.”
Sacred Heart’s rector, Father David Boettner, told Knox News in the days leading up to the church’s opening that the cathedral was built to last.
“When you build something you intend to last for 250 years, it’s a statement that you intend to be here for 250 years,” said Father Boettner, Sacred Heart rector and diocese vicar general. “The church is here to stay, and it wants to be part of the community that it is in.”
Built in a traditional cruciform design, the cathedral’s exterior was constructed of Indiana limestone and Roman-style bricks from Ohio.
Seventeen types of marble were used in the interior, including the altar’s white marble, which came from the same quarry as Michelangelo’s Pieta, housed in St. Peter’s Basilica.
The interior of the dome is painted with figures from the Bible, including murals of Jesus’s apostles, and portraits of 16 saints. Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville’s own pet Cockapoo dogs acted as models for the dogs surrounding the painting of St. Francis.
“We can all relate to dogs,” he told Knox news. “I just made this slight suggestion, ‘Why not do some dogs?’ ”
The painting of Jesus at the top of the dome commands one’s attention. As befits the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, it shows Jesus with a heart pierced by a lance, and wearing a crown of thorns.
“When you come into a church, you find a presence of God,” Bishop Stika said. “You have a certain sense you are in a place that’s special. It’s not an arena; it’s not a public auditorium. It’s a place of serenity, peace and the presence of God.”
The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart is the second new cathedral to be dedicated in the United States in the past year, and the third in the last decade.