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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.