Raleigh bishop leads tour of cathedral he will leave behind

Bishop of Raleigh Michael Burbidge will be the Bishop of Arlington in Virginia when the cathedral he conceived and championed is completed here next spring, but Burbidge got to show off the unfinished building to the media Monday.

Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, the new mother church for the 54-county Diocese of Raleigh, won’t be completed until May and will be dedicated in July. But with the cross atop the cathedral’s dome rising 170 feet from its hilltop location off Western Boulevard, the building already has become a landmark in the city.

“We live in a very fast-paced, consumer-mentality world, and this building makes you stop,” Burbidge said Monday outside the cathedral. “It makes you stop; it makes you look up. It reminds you that there’s something above and beyond this earthly journey. And that’s what a cathedral, that’s what these beautiful churches, have always meant to be, to give us a sense of the sacred.”

Burbidge let Monsignor David Brockman lead the tour inside the cathedral, where workers used 10 cranes to reach up the soaring walls. Reporters held their hard hats as they looked up 74 feet to the steel frame of the arched ceiling of the nave, where most of the congregation will sit, and 164 feet to the peak of the dome.

Brockman explained various design details of the cathedral, both the theological and the mundane. The pews will be oak, hopefully all sourced in North Carolina. The floors will be made of porcelain tile, except around the alter, where it will be Italian marble. And the color scheme of gray, white and gold was borrowed from San Tommaso di Villanova, a parish church designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and completed in 1661 near Rome.

There will be 24 niches in the walls around the inside of the cathedral containing statues of saints, but one of them will be left empty in hopes that Father Thomas Price, the first native North Carolinian to be ordained a Catholic priest, will become a saint soon. In 1898, Price established the Nazareth Orphanage on land where the cathedral now stands and went on to help found a Catholic missionary group, the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, in 1911.

Above the 10-foot main doors of the cathedral will be three arched windows, each bearing a different coat of arms: for the Diocese of Raleigh in the middle, flanked by the coat of arms for Pope Francis on one side and for Bishop Burbidge on the other, a permanent reminder of the man who brought the cathedral into being.

Holy Name of Jesus replaces Sacred Heart Cathedral in downtown Raleigh, which with a capacity of about 300 is the second-smallest cathedral in the country after Juneau, Alaska. Burbidge will return to Raleigh for the new cathedral’s dedication on July 26.

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling

By the numbers

2,000 – Seating capacity

About 40 – Seating capacity of the cathedral’s small chapel

$41 million – Money initially raised for the cathedral, but contributions continue to come in.

50 – Bells in the carillon

164 feet – Distance from the floor to the top of the dome

95 – Number of stained-glass windows, 45 of which have been removed from a closed church in Philadelphia and are being restored