Explore the Special Features
How many stained glass windows are there in the upper level of the Cathedral?
How many stained glass windows are there in the lower level of the Cathedral?
How ever do they get up there to change those ceiling lights?
(answer: they’re changed via a catwalk that is inside the attic)
During the restoration, how many decks of scoffolding did they need to construct?
(answer: 14 decks to the roof line and 31 decks to the steeple tops.)
How old is the steeple bell? Where was it made? How much does it weigh?
(answer: The steeple bell was cast in 1900 in Baltimore, MD and weights 4,730 lbs.)
What about the hardware on the bell? How much does that weigh?)
(answer: The hardware alone weighs 2,300 lbs.)
What are the dimensions of the Cathedral Bell?
(answer: The diameter is 59.5 inches. It’s 49.75 inches tall. It’s hung 96 feet above the ground.)
How tall are the Cathedral’s steeples? What about the crosses on top?
(answer: The steeples tower 207 feet in the air and the crosses add another 7 feet making a total of 214 feet.)
How high are the Cathedral’s ceilings inside? How tall are the roof peaks outside?
(answer: The ceilings are 66 feet high. The roof peaks are 96 feet high.)
Exactly how long is the center aisle of the Cathedral?
(answer: 114 feet.)
How tall are the transept windows showing Christ’s Ascension into heaven?
(answer: 28 feet high.)
How tall are the nave and apse windows?
(answer: 24 feet high.)
What’s the diameter of The Rose Window?
(answer: 20 feet.)
What’s the combined square footage of the upper and lower floors?
(answer: More than 28,000 square feet.)
How many slates and copper nails did it take to cover the Cathedral roof?
(answer: 45,000 slates and 90,000 copper nails.)
How many pieces of terra cotta decorate the Cathedral? What about terra cotta gargoyles?
(answer: 1,000 pieces of terra cotta and 16 terra cotta gargoyles in the steeples.)
Donations for the upkeep of this beautiful edifice are greatly needed and appreciated. They may be placed in the depository in the rear of the church, click here to donate on-line, or mail to:
The Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist
222 East Harris Street
Savannah, GA 31401
Holy Oils Ambry
The Ambry stands in the east corner of the Cathedral’s north transept. Originally, the carved marble sections were tabernacles on the side altars. In renovations that took place in 2000, Monsignor William O’Neill, the rector of the Cathedral, had them fitted with doors and inlaid granite to create the Ambry. The three bronze doors were crafted in Como, Italy and the compartments are lined with granite from Poland. Vessels containing Holy Oils are stored in the Ambry. The oils are blessed each year during Holy Week at a special Chrism Mass. After the Mass, priests carry oils to each parish for use when anointing the sick, newly baptized, and newly confirmed members of the Church. The oil is also used for consecrating altars for ordination to the priesthood, and during Confirmation.
The Main Altar is the central focus of the Mass. At each Mass, bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ to be shared with the faithful who gather to celebrate. Through the reliving of the Last Supper, Catholics partaking of the Eucharist join in solidarity with Christ Jesus.
On the front of the Cathedral’s main Altar is inscribed in Latin the phrase, “Beati Qui Ad Cenam Agni Vocati Sunt.” The phrase translates to “Blessed are they who are called to the banquet of the Lamb” and is a quotation from Revelation 19:9. The 9,000 pound altar was carved in Italy of Carrar marble. The priests and Bishop of the Diocese of Savannah donated the altar to the Cathedral.
Great Rose Window
The crucifix, which once stood next to the pulpit, was removed for several decades. It has now been completely restored and given a permanent place on what was once the altar of Saint Anthony.
“This is the wood of the cross on which hung the Savior of the world.”
(Afternoon Liturgy of the Passion, Good Friday)
The Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist is home to 34 outstanding murals. The cathedral exhibits an unusual amount of decoratively painted surface, rarely seen in the churches of America. It has often been compared favorably to the great cathedrals of Europe. Michangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel are the cornerstone of high renaissance art. Though no work of art can rival his masterpiece, our murals are masterpieces in their own right and have been acknowledged as the most beautiful in the south. Hence the Cathedral’s appellation, “The Sistine of the South.”
The elegantly detailed murals, executed with ecclesiastical precision, are different from frescoes, which are painted on fresh, wet plaster (a la fresca). Over 100 years old, our murals were actually hand painted in oil on canvas in New York City by a noted muralist, Paul Gutsche and transported to Savannah for installation, much like you would put up wallpaper, for the formal reopening of the Cathedral on Pentecost Sunday, May 19, 1912.
Two of the largest and most notable are:
On the east wall of the south transept, is the monumental (16 x 18 ft) mural depicting the Feast of Pentecost. It illustrates the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove as the Apostles gathered with Mary in the upper room of a house in Jerusalem. While they worshipped, “tongues of fire” came to rest on the head of each of them. The Apostles, thus strengthened and emboldened by the Holy Spirit, went forth preaching in tongues to all and ultimately established the Church. Hence Pentecost is known as the Birthday of the Church.
Sermon on the Mount
On east wall of the north transept, is the colossal Sermon on the Mount mural depicting Jesus proclaiming the Beatitudes. The Sermon on the Mount is recorded in two of the four New Testament Gospels (Matthew 5-7 and Luke 6). In the sermon, Christ gave straightforward instructions to his followers on how to live in a morally upright manner. The signature of Paul Gutsche is visible in the lower right hand corner of this mural.
Found in the Sacred Heart Chapel, the tabernacle is the place of reservation for the Blessed Sacrament. The Sacrament is reserved to provide Communion for the sick and shut-in, and for adoration by the faithful. The Altar of Reservation, within which the tabernacle is housed, was erected as a memorial to the bishops and priests of the United States in response to Bishop Becker’s plea for funds after the fire of 1898.
The inscription at the base of the altar reads:
“From his priests to the Great High Priest.”
Blessed Virgin Chapel
Saint Cecelia and Saint Agnes
St. Cecelia is shown with her portable organ. Her feast day is November 22. Renowned as the patron of musicians, she is also patron to musical instrument makers and poets. The figure to the right is St. Agnes who is shown carrying a lamb. The lamb symbolizes purity. Her Feast Day is January 21. She is patron of betrothed couples and Girl Scouts.
This window at the far end of the chapel is the largest of three windows that survived the fire of 1898. The deep red color in the top part of the window distinguishes it from all the other windows in the cathedral.
Coat of Arms
Coat of Arms
As you walk into the south transept you will note on the south wall, the coat of arms of the Most Reverend J. Kevin Boland, D.D., the thirteenth Bishop of the Diocese of Savannah.
The translation of the Latin motto reads: “May Christ be our heart.”
The coat of arms of Saint John Paul II, on the north transept wall, contains the capital letter “M” which recalls the presence of Mary beneath the cross and her exceptional participation in the Redemption.
Both were installed during the restoration of 1999-2000.
The presence of the Bishop’s chair reminds the faithful that St. John The Baptist “church” is a Cathedral. The word cathedral is derived from the Greek kathedra and literally means Bishop’s chair. The chair in the Cathedral was installed after the 1898 fire. The chair holds many symbols which attest to the Bishop’s role in proclaiming the Good News of Christ just as his predecessors the Apostles did.
Details on the chair include a carving of the Bishop’s miter and staff at the center of the back of the chair. Pineapples at the top of the chair, in Southern custom, extend the idea of welcome to all guests. Interconnected circles on the sides of the chair signify the Trinity. Arches carved in the back and sides reflect the Gothic design of the Cathedral. Needlepoint cushions on the seats of the chair are the work of women volunteers from the Savannah Deanery.
South Transept Window
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
In traditional and orthodox belief, Mary was assumed into heaven because of God’s great love for her. In this portrayal of the Assumption of Mary, Christ holds a crown for her coronation as Queen of Heaven. The style of art is reminiscent of the famous painting of the Immaculate Conception by the Spanish artist, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. As in the Ascension window in the north transept, red-winged seraphim stand guard to the entrance to heaven. Mary is surrounded by angels and saints.
North Transept Window
The Ascension of Christ
After resurrecting from the dead, Jesus spent time instructing his followers and commissioning them to go into the world to teach as he had taught them. When time came for him to depart to heaven, his followers accompanied him to a hillside. As they watched, he rose to heaven and was greeted by his heavenly Father. The quatrefoil at the top shows a representation of God the Father. Red-winged seraphim stand guard between heaven and earth.
The present Baptismal Font is one of many used since 1876 when the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist opened at its present location. Symbols on the Baptismal Font match the panels on the front of the Main Altar. Molds were made of the Reredos designs and sent to Carrara, Italy where replicas were made. They were applied to the Baptismal font, which was installed during the most recent renovation in 2000. The dedicated craftsman who made the reproductions stayed alone in the Cathedral to complete the installation during a city-wide hurricane evacuation. Neither the workers nor the city were harmed.
The font weighs 8,000 pounds and is shaped in an octagon. The number eight represents rebirth or resurrection which is the essence of the Sacrament of Baptism.
“He who sent me to baptize with water, he it is who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”
Scripture readings and homilies are proclaimed from the Pulpit during the Mass. The Cathedral’s pulpit is a replica of one destroyed by an arsonist on October 7, 2003. Guenther Wood Group, Inc. located in Savannah, rebuilt the pulpit’s body and set in symbolic carvings which were completed in Ortesi, Italy. The carvings are based on a vision of Ezekiel, the old Testament prophet, in which he saw four creatures who would attest to the holiness of God. Christians believe the four creatures shown in the carvings represent the four Gospel writers.
The Confessional stands in the northeast transept and is built of wood and etched glass with a door opening from each side. Etched in the glass is a depiction of the Bible story of the Prodigal Son. In contrast to the mural above the Confessional, the bearded consoler is human as evidenced by the lack of a halo. Other elements in the etched glass include rocks and trees appropriate to a desert setting in which the story of the Prodigal Son took place. Parched and barren plants on one side convey the message of desolation found in the experience of wandering in the wilderness caused by sinfulness and separation from God. Plush greenery on the opposite side of the Confessional symbolizes the fullness of life found in forgiveness. The story of the Prodigal Son is told in the Gospel of Luke 15:11-32.
Originally built in Georgetown, Massachusetts, The Noack pipe organ was installed in 1987. The instrument is a tracker organ with 34 ranks and 2,308 pipes. The case is made entirely of solid white oak, and the console trim is black walnut. James Lohmann (b. 1953), a Chicago woodcarver, made the pipes and swell screens, The woods were chosen to blend with the Cathedral’s furnishings; the white oak will darken with age.
Behind the organ can be found a plaque, naming those who contributed to the consrtuction of this magnificent organ.
Stations of the Cross
Statues hanging on the north and south nave walls of the Cathedral compose a three dimensional display of the modern Stations of the Cross. The wooden figures composing each scene were carved in Munich, shipped to Savannah, and set into shadow boxes designed and built in the United States. The stations were installed in 1900 for the re-opening of the Cathedral after the fire of 1898. Originally, the stations were colorized. In 1963 they were reduced down to their natural wood, giving them a marbleized effect. However, in 2000 statues were re-colored to appear as originally intended.
The Stations of the Cross (also referred to as “The Way of the Cross” in Latin as the “Via Dolorosa”) make up a series of meditations focused on the Passion and Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. Christians praying through the stations follow from Station One to Station Fourteen, pausing to meditate at each. By following the Stations, Christians make a symbolic pilgrimage to the Holy Land and some of the places corresponding to Jesus’ path on his way to Calvary. As part of the Liturgical Year, Stations of the Cross are prayed by the congregation on Good Friday as an act of sharing in the suffering of Christ. After praying through the Stations on Good Friday, Christians then await the resurrection of Jesus on Easter morning.
Through the centuries, the number of Stations has varied from 12 to 31 stations. In addition, focus on various locations and events has differed with places such as the house of Herod and the city gate of Jerusalem being part of earlier versions of the devotion.
- Christ is condemned
- Christ picks up his cross to start the journey to Calvary
- Christ falls the first time on the road
- Christ meets his mother on the road
- Simon of Cyrene is pressed into service
- Veronica wipes the grime from Christ’s face
- Christ falls the second time
- Christ meets the women of Jeruselem
- Christ falls the third time
- Roman soldiers strip Christ of his clothing
- Christ is crucified
- Christ dies on the cross
- Christ is removed from the cross
- Christ is laid in the tomb