The Cathedral of St. John the
of St. John the Baptist is at 222
East Harris Street. It is the Mother Church
of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Savannah.
The colonial charter of Savannah prohibited Roman Catholics from settling in
Savannah. The English Trustees feared that Roman Catholics would be more loyal
to the Spanish in Florida than the English. This prohibition faded shortly after
the American Revolutionary War and this
congregation was reorganised around 1796. French Catholic emigres established
the first church in 1799 fleeing from Haiti after an uprising and fleeing the
French Revolution. A second church was dedicated in 1839 due to the increase in
population of Savannah Catholics. Construction began on the new Cathedral of St.
John the Baptist in 1873 and was completed by the addition of the spires in
1896. It was almost totally destroyed by fire in 1898 and through diligent
effort was rebuilt by 1899. Today the Roman Catholic Diocese of Savannah
includes ninety counties in Mid and Southern Georgia, including cities such as
Columbus and Macon.
History of the Cathedral:
First Parish Established: Immigrants fleeing turmoil in Haiti and France
established Savannah's first parish, the Congregation de Saint Jean-Baptiste,
near the end of the 18th century.
Land Granted; First Cornerstone
To accommodate a growing Catholic population, half a
trust lot on Liberty Square was reserved as a building site for the small frame
church of Saint John the Baptist.
New Site for the Growing Parish
On the 2nd of August 1811, the Mayor and Aldermen of
Savannah granted a petition for a larger parcel of land at Montgomery and Hull
Streets; but the congregation instead choose a site on Drayton and Perry
Bishop of New Diocese Places
The first Bishop of the Diocese of Charleston (1820),
which encompassed all of Georgia, was Bishop John England, and he placed the
cornerstone of the new brick church. On the 1st of April 1839, Bishop England
dedicated the Church of Saint John the Baptist, which seated 1,000
Diocese of Savannah Erected
Pope Pius IX erected the Diocese of Savannah on the 19th
of July 1850, with the Right Reverend Francis X Gartland as the first bishop.
Saint John the Baptist Church (the only Catholic church in Savannah) was
repaired following hurricane damage, enlarged and named the
New Cathedral is Planned
The Right Reverend Ignatius Persico, fourth bishop of
Savannah, began planning the construction of a new Cathedral. He procured land
on Abercorn Street from the Sisters of Mercy, but resigned the see in 1872 due
to poor health.
Cornerstone is Laid
The Right Reverend William H. Gross, C.Ss.R., laid the
cornerstone of the new Cathedral on the 19th of November 1873. The new structure
was dedicated to "Our Lady of Perpetual Help," a name the Cathedral retained for
Cathedral is Dedicated
On the 30th of April 1876, the Most Reverend James
Roosevelt Bayley, Archbishop of Baltimore, dedicated the new French Gothic style
Cathedral, which was suitably soaring and ornate, with four side altars of white
Spires and Stucco are Added
The Right Reverand Thomas A. Becker completed the
Cathedral with the building of the spires in 1896. The brick structure was also
stuccoed and whitewashed.
Fire Ravages Cathedral
A devastating fire on the 6th of February 1898, destroyed
all of the Cathedral but the outside walls and the two spires. The rebuilding
began immediately, and the seventh bishop of Savannah, Benjamin Keiley,
celebrated the first mass in the rebuilt Cathedral on the 24th of December 1899.
The rebuilt Cathedral was dedicated the 28th of October 1900, by the apostolic
delegate to the United States, Archbishop Sebastian Martinelli.
Redecoration is Completed
It was another 13 years after the fire before the
extensive decoration and artwork of the interior were finished. Savannah artist,
Christopher Murphy, led the design and creation of the murals, and the stained
glass windows were executed by the Innsbruck Glassmakers of the Austrian Tyrol,
Cathedral is Consecrated
Following the retirement of the church's debt, which was
a requirement for consecration at that time, Bishop Keiley was able to preside
over the solemn consecration of the Cathedral in 1920.
Renovations Are Accomplished
The Most Reverend Thomas J. McDonough directed a
renovation of the Cathedral between 1959 and 1963. Improvements included the
entrance plaza and heating, cooling and lighting upgrades. A new decorative
scheme was established based on the original color palette, and a new pulpit and
altar rail were added.
Spire Repairs and Liturgical
The twelfth bishop of Savannah, the Most Reverend Raymond
W. Lessard, closed the church while the decaying timber foundations were
replaced with reinforced concrete. Guided by the tenets of the Second Vatican
Council, liturgical updates were executed, with the high altar placed for the
celebrant to face the congregation.
Restoration for Two Anniversaries
In September 1998, the Most Reverend J. Kevin Boland, the
thirteenth bishop of Savannah, commenced a major restoration for the Cathedral.
Directed by the Cathedral Rector, Monsignor William O. O'Neill, the exterior
project included the replacement of the slate roof. Conrad Schmitt Studios of
New Berlin, Wisconsin was commissioned for the restoration of the decorative
paint scheme, murals, stained glass and Stations of the Cross. The restoration
was completed in November 2000 to honor the 150th anniversary of the diocese and
the 100th anniversary of the rededication of the Cathedral.
ALL IN ALL A VERY BEAUTIFUL