Cathedral of St. Matthew, a DC Landmark, Celebrates Major Restoration

September 18, 2003

A month-long celebration of the newly restored, historic Cathedral of St. Matthew in downtown Washington will kick-off with a bilingual Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated by Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington:

Sunday, September 21, 2003
Noon (musical prelude begins at 11:30 a.m.)
Cathedral of St. Matthew, 1725 Rhode Island Ave., NW, Washington, DC
(Media note: an audio mult box was added during the restoration)

The four-year, $8.4 million restoration of this magnificent church, with its tall copper dome, striking Tiffany-quality glass mosaics and rare marbles from Europe, Africa, India and the United States has returned the building to its original grandeur, while also updating it for the 21st century. The entire restoration, which called for 486,000 pounds of scaffolding in the interior, was an unusual challenge since the building remained in daily use during the entire time. The restoration was completed under the direction of noted historic preservation architect Mary Oehrlein.

Built between 1893 and 1917, St. Matthew’s has hosted Pope John Paul II, who celebrated Mass there in 1979, and it was the site of President John F. Kennedy’s funeral in 1963; then three-year old John, Jr. saluted his father’s casket in an unforgettable moment from the Cathedral’s front steps. For 50 years, the annual Red Mass, attended by Supreme Court justices and senior government officials each October, has been held at St. Matthew’s, which is named after the patron saint of civil servants.

The month-long celebration includes concerts, tours and a lecture series about the Cathedral’s art and architecture; a complete schedule is online. A five-week lecture series on The Restoration, Art and Architecture of St. Matthew’s Cathedral will start September 24. English-language lectures will be held Wednesdays, 12:45 p.m. and Thursdays, 6:30 p.m.; Spanish-language, Tuesdays at 7:00 p.m. Guided tours (30 minutes) will be held October 4 at 10:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., and October 5 at 2:30 p.m. and 3:00 p.m.

A Grand Restoration Concert, featuring the Cathedral’s combined choirs and the Washington Symphonic Brass, will be held September 27, 7:30 p.m. A Vocal Chamber Music Recital, featuring the Cathedral’s Schola Cantorum, will be held October 17, 7:30 p.m.

Cathedral of St. Matthew: Restoration at a Glance

The $8 million, four-year restoration of the Cathedral of St. Matthew, 1725 Rhode Island Avenue, NW, Washington, DC, became a necessity after water began leaking into the building in the mid-1990s. Pieces of plaster fell from the ceiling and tiles began to pop off of the sanctuary mosaic behind the altar. In addition, the wiring, nearly original to the building, needed to be replaced.

Construction History
· Parish founded in 1840, with original building at 15th and H Streets, NW.
· Current building designed by noted architect C. Grant LaFarge of New York.
· Constructed 1893-1917.
· First Mass celebrated in the building on June 2, 1895.
· Cardinal James Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore (which then included Washington, DC) dedicated the church on April 1, 1913.
· Sanctuary mosaics were installed in 1917.

Exterior Highlights
· The high copper dome was recovered with 50,000 pounds of Revere copper.
· The 100-year old slate roof was replaced with 15,000 square feet of Buckingham slate.
· All exterior brick was repointed and repaired.

Interior Highlights
· 486,000 pounds of scaffolding was used during the restoration.
· The church was in daily use throughout the restoration.
· The mosaics were repaired: 90 percent of the mosaic behind the altar, The Angels of the Crucifixion (designed by Edwin Howland Blashfield and executed by Grace Edith Barnes of New York), was separating from the wall, as well as 50 percent of the mosaic of St. Matthew and the Angel; the repaired mosaics also include the Four Evangelists, under the dome, which was executed in Rome, Italy with Murano glass.
· The large murals were cleaned, tears were fixed and old varnish was removed, restoring their original vivid colors.
· Semi-precious stones missing from the marble altar and baptismal font, which are from India, were replaced.
· The rare marble throughout the Cathedral, including yellow from Numidia in Northern Africa; green and white from Switzerland; red and purple from Italy; and green serpentine and white from the U.S., was cleaned.
· The ceramic and gold-leaf Stations of the Cross, made in Faenza, Italy in 1896 and a gift of Napolean Bonaparte’s nephew, Col. Jerome Bonaparte and his wife, of Baltimore, were cleaned.
· The Chapel of St. Anthony, a replica of the tomb of St. Anthony in Padua, Italy, was cleaned and new lighting was installed.
· The windows in the baptistery, made in Chartres, France, were cleaned.
· New wiring to replace the original 1895 wiring, new lighting to highlight the art and architecture and new audio systems were installed.

Susan Gibbs
Office of Communications
[email protected]