Cathedral of the Madeleine
A Salt Lake City Treasure
The Cathedral of the Madeleine is a stunning architectural treasure in downtown Salt Lake City. A Roman Catholic Church, it has been the seat of nine Roman Catholic bishops. And the center of the local Catholic community for 100 years.
In fact, it’s exactly 100 years. The Cathedral was dedicated August 15, 1909. With a cardinal along with several archbishops and bishops from across the country in attendance.
It recently hosted almost 1,000 dignitaries ... of a wide variety of faiths and backgrounds ... in celebration of this lively 100th anniversary. More than ¼ million Roman Catholics live in Utah, renowned as the place where Brigham Young decided to settle his band of pioneer Mormons.
Predominately a Neo-Romanesque design on the exterior, it’s a fascinating contrast to the LDS architecture so predominate throughout the Salt Lake Valley.
Modeled after 9th-century European cathedrals, the two front towers rise up 220 feet. But unlike the dimly lit, even eerie interiors so common in cliché-ridden Hollywood, the Cathedral of the Madeleine throbs with color and sound.
A Community Gathering Place
It has, over the last couple decades, become a gathering place for the wider community as well as for Catholics. Now the seat of Bishop John C. Wester, it hosts not only liturgies and ceremony, it also welcomes those who enjoy concerts, dramatic performances and even lectures.
The Madeleine Choir School, founded in 1996, is one of only a few like it in the nation. And the Madeleine Cathedral Choir ... singing in English and Spanish ... welcomes members of many faiths also. A truly diverse group of Catholic, Jewish, Episcopal and LDS children.
It’s Truly Unique Name
The name ... Cathedral of the Madeleine ... distinguishes Salt Lake City’s magnificent cathedral from every other in the nation. It is the only one named after Mary Magdalene.
Long before she became the inspiration for Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code books, St. Mary Magdalene was the patron saint of the local Catholic diocese. Since the late 1800’s to be exact.
Madeleine is the French spelling for her name. Bishop Joseph Glass changed the name in 1916 after visiting her supposed burial place in France.
It is speculated that the name was originally chosen by the first bishop, the Most Reverend Lawrence Scanlan, to give local Catholics a celebration near the Mormons’ July 24 Pioneer Day celebrations. St. Mary Magdalene’s feast day is July 22.
History of the Cathedral of the Madeleine
The Catholics were here before the Mormons. Long before. In 1776, two Franciscan missionaries – Francisco Atanasio Dominguez and Francisco Silvestre Velez de Escalante – led an exploration party which passed through what is now Utah. They had two goals:
- To scout a northern route from Santa Fe to Monterey.
- To help promote Christianity among the Indians.
Escalante was impressed with the natural beauty of Utah's pristine landscape. He frequently mentioned it in his diary.
So many of the places Utahns are familiar with in their state came from early explorers and fur traders. Many of them Catholic. The San Juans. Santa Clara. The Virgin River. Monte Cristo.
The first Catholic priests coming to live in Utah arrived because of the federal troops stationed here. From 1859 to 1866. At Camp Floyd. In fact, the largest Army post in the entire United States in 1861 was right here at Camp Floyd. “To keep an eye on the Mormons.”
In 1866, Reverend Edward Kelly enlisted the aid of Brigham Young to help settle a dispute over some downtown Salt Lake City land purchased for a church. In 1871, Utah’s first Catholic Church was dedicated. A couple blocks west of the current site of the Cathedral of the Madeleine.
In 1875, the Reverend Lawrence Scanlan arrived from Ireland. A young Irish priest, he came to serve the 710 Catholics living here. He was named a bishop in 1886 and went on to found parishes in Ogden, Park City, Silver Reef, and Eureka.
The Holy Cross Sisters founded Holy Cross Hospital (where I happened to have my knee operated on after a football injury).
By 1890, Utah was home to 5,000 or so Catholics. Ground was broken for St. Mary’s Cathedral in 1899. At a cost of $344,000. 10 years later, on August 15, 1909, St. Mary Magdalene Cathedral was dedicated.
In the Roman Catholic tradition, a cathedral is the seat of the bishop.
Bishop Scanlan died in 1915. He’s buried in the cathedral!
Some more highlights:
- Consecrated in 1936 as the debt is paid off.
- The first Mass in the English language is celebrated in 1965.
- A $9.7 million restoration was undertaken in 1991. The cathedral was rededicated in 1993.
- The Cathedral of the Madeleine has served as the seat of nine different bishops.
- There are a number of relics in the cathedral. Minute slivers purported to be from the cross of Jesus Christ and from Mary Magdalene. Secured by the second bishop of Salt Lake City – Joseph C. Glass.
- The stained glass windows display 258 angels.
The Nine Bishops of the Cathedral of the Madeleine
1. Bishop Lawrence Scanlan
2. Bishop Joseph C. Glass
3. Bishop John J. Mitty
4. Bishop James E. Kearney
5. Bishop Duane G. Hunt
6. Bishop Joseph Lennox Federal
7. Bishop William K. Wiegand
8. Bishop George N. Niederauer
9. Bishop John C. Wester
A weeklong celebration in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Cathedral of the Madeleine was held during the week of August 9 through August 16 of 2009.
The Bishop John C. Wester welcomed guests from a wide variety of faiths and backgrounds attending the ceremony on Sunday August 9. He gave thanks that the cathedral has been able to “contribute to the civic and cultural legacy of the state of Utah.”
As the President of the LDS Church – Thomas S. Monson – stated, “This magnificent edifice is a vital and integral part of Salt Lake City.”
Tours are available most Sundays after the 11:00 a.m. Mass. During the week, it’s open after the 8:00 a.m. Mass until around 7:00 p.m.
Where Is It?
The Cathedral of the Madeleine is located at:
331 E. South Temple
Salt Lake City, UT 84111-1226
Phone: (801) 328-8941
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