Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Thursday 23 September |
Saint of the Day: St. Pio of Pietrelcina
home iconArt & Culture
line break icon

First cathedral built after Vatican II celebrates 50th anniversary

Catehdral of Saint Mary of the Assumption

Lucius Rueedi | Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 05/30/21

The Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption was the first cathedral built with the Second Vatican Council in mind.

San Francisco’s Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2021. While St. Mary’s parish has been around since the 19th century, there have been several iterations of the cathedral. St. Mary’s was the first cathedral built with the Second Vatican Council’s guidelines in mind.

The history of St. Mary’s is outlined in brilliant detail by Nikolaus Hohmann of the Benedict XVI Institute. It was first opened on Christmas Eve, 1854, as the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception. At the time, it was the first church to hold such a distinction. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was only officially instituted three weeks prior, in the papal bull Ineffabilis Deus.

The first cathedral became an invaluable place of worship, education, and cultural exchange. With the California gold rush in full swing, however, the Catholic population of California erupted. This led the diocese to construct another, larger version of the cathedral. The new building, St. Mary of the Assumption, was completed and opened in 1891. 

Second cathedral

This second iteration of the cathedral served the community for over 50 years, until it was gutted by a fire in 1962. While much of the structure survived, the damage was so severe that the diocese decided to rebuild. This, however, became difficult when arguments over architectural style arose. 

The debates over design were compounded by innovations suggested by the Second Vatican Council. The council made many proposals for reform, but among them was a call to bring a “noble simplicity” to church design. Taking inspiration from the council, St. Mary’s architects heeded the call of Pope Paul VI. Hohmann explains on the Benedict XVI Institute website

The second President of the Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI, described his vision of a new cathedral: “in the majesty of the building, it is a symbol of the spiritual temple that is built up in souls and is resplendent in the glory of divine grace … the cathedral, furthermore, should be regarded as the express image of Christ’s visible Church, praying, singing, and worshiping on earth.”

The cornerstone of the new cathedral was blessed in December 1967, and it formally opened in October 1970. The building cost $9 million to complete, a price that would reach over $61 million by today’s standards. 

Third cathedral

Named the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, the new church building quickly became an iconic landmark of San Francisco. Its unique architecture is thrilling from the outside and dizzying from within. It is notable for its many side altars, which feature six large patronal shrines to the Blessed Mother. In these, Mary is presented as the first disciple of Christ. 

In his report, Hohmann writes terrific descriptions of the many sights of St. Mary’s, as well as the many symbols incorporated into its design. Click here to learn more about this fantastic, historic cathedral. 

ChurchUnited States
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Domitille Farret d'Astiès
Attacked with acid as a baby, Anmol Rodriguez overcomes and inspi...
Our Lady of La Salette
Philip Kosloski
How Our Lady of La Salette can give us hope in darkness
Philip Kosloski
An alternative Hail Mary to Our Lady of Sorrows
Philip Kosloski
Pray this Psalm when you successfully recover from an illness
Cecilia Pigg
7 Ways the saints can help you sleep better at night
Philip Kosloski
Your body is not a “shell” for your spirit
Philip Kosloski
Why do some Eastern Catholics use spoons for Holy Communion?
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.