Richmond's Catholic travel destinations

First slide

Richmond may seem like a natural destination for Civil War afficionados, but did you know it also lays claim to a small treasure trove of Catholic attractions?

The first stop for any Catholic out-of-towner is the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, the seat of the Diocese of Richmond. Located in the middle of Virginia Commonwealth University's Monroe Park campus on North Laurel Street, Sacred Heart is one of many architectural gems found in Richmond's historic district called the Fan. A perfect example of the Italian Renaissance Revival style, Sacred Heart's columned exterior is made of Virginia granite and Indiana limestone, and capped with a tile roof and impressive copper dome. Inside the cathedral, you'll find everything from its original baptismal font to an organ with 3,899 pipes to stained glass windows from Limoges, France.

Construction on the cathedral was started in 1903, the year engraved on its cornerstone, which was brought from Gethsemane, the garden nestled at the foot of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Completed in 1905, Sacred Heart was consecrated on Thanksgiving Day in 1906. The cathedral is recognized as a Virginia Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Sacred Heart's baptistery gallery, crypt and undercroft are the site of the Museum of Virginia Catholic History - an exhibition space open seven days a week by appointment only. Curated by Edie Jeter, the museum currently has an exhibit on Catholics in the Civil War and will have an exhibit on Virginia's black Catholics from March 30 through mid-June, when the museum closes for renovation for the summer.

From there, Jeter suggests visiting Maymont, a Gilded Age estate established by the Dooleys, a Catholic couple who built their fortune during the South's Reconstruction era. The estate encompasses 100 landscaped acres with a house museum, a Japanese-style garden, an Italian rose garden, a carriage collection, a nature center, a children's farm and more.

Another Jeter pick is St. Peter Church at 8th and Grace streets. Founded in 1834, St. Peter was the first cathedral in the Richmond Diocese, built during a time when the city had no bishop and was under the administration of Baltimore. It originated as a parish with a primarily Irish-American congregation that shifted as Richmond's Catholic population grew. The church stands just a few blocks from the Virginia State Capitol and other secular downtown attractions.

You might end the day reflecting at another Jeter pick - Mount Calvary Cemetery, a 90-acre Catholic cemetery not far from the scenic James River. Dating back to 1880, Mount Calvary is the final resting place of about 30,000 Richmonders, as well as non-Richmonders with familial ties to the city.

To start your adventure, consider taking the train or driving along the more bucolic Route 1 or Route 301 instead of Interstate 95. Then, enjoy this less talked about aspect of Virginia's River City.

Find out more

To schedule a tour at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart and the Museum of Virginia Catholic History, call 804/359-5651.

Stoddard can be reached at cstoddard@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015