As the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary this summer, Catholic Digest recommends a pilgrimage to a remarkable basilica. Just a few miles across the Ohio River from Cincinnati in Covington, Kentucky, stands a true testament to God’s beauty and the human ability to create stunning architecture and art.
St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption is a Gothic church dedicated in 1901. Its façade, finished in 1910, is patterned after the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Pope Pius XII bestowed the honor of “minor basilica” on the cathedral in 1953 because of “its unusual beauty.” Today it’s one of 85 minor basilicas in the United States. (The world’s four major basilicas are in Rome.)
“St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption stands as a testimony to the deep faith of the people of the Diocese of Covington who, in much more difficult times, rallied to build this tribute to the Lord and to their faith,” Bishop Roger Foys said. “It continues to stand today as that witness. It is a sign that when people have deep faith and come together they can do miraculous things.”
Stephen Enzweiler, the cathedral historian and a docent, tells the story of a man who had been away from the faith whose life was spiraling out of control. Desperate, he came into the basilica one day, sat in front of the Blessed Sacrament for a long time, and wept. After several visits, he had a reconversion experience, turned his life around, and now regularly attends Mass.
“A lot of people have conversion experiences,” Enzweiler said. “A lot of people who come to see the art say that this reminds them of Europe. And in fact, this is the European experience in America.”
The basilica features 82 stained-glass windows that were handmade at the studios of Franz Mayer & Co. in Munich. Biblical events illustrated include scenes from the infancy narratives, Jesus’ miracles, the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the Conversion of St. Paul. The stained glass also depicts images of the sacraments, such as the penitent woman anointing Jesus’ feet (Penance and Reconciliation) and the wedding of Mary and St. Joseph (Matrimony).
Devotional shrines can be found throughout the basilica. Shrines are dedicated to Mary, St. Joseph, the Sacred Heart, St. Anthony, St. Patrick, and Our Lady of Guadalupe. Outside the basilica are gardens. Features here include a statue titled the Immaculate Conception and a statue of Our Lady of LaSalette.
Despite all of this, the basilica remains unfinished.
“It’s finished when God wants it to be finished, which is like the journey of faith,” Enzweiler said.
Below, Catholic Digest gives you a small sampling of the basilica’s stunning art and spiritual places.
Sources: A Short Tour of St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption and Saint Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption (Self-Guided Tour) pamphlets; CovCathedral.com, NGA.gov, and Stephen Enzweiler
On the air:
Managing Editor Paul McKibben appeared on “Driving Home the Faith with Fr. Rob Jack” on Sacred Heart Radio in Cincinnati. McKibben’s segment begins at about the 6:17 mark.
Frank Duveneck’s murals
One of Covington’s native sons has left a piece of his artistic legacy at St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption.
The Blessed Sacrament Chapel features a three-panel triptych on the east wall showing three eras of worship and a mural on the west wall depicting one of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. Each work has Eucharistic themes.
Frank Duveneck (1848–1919), the son of German immigrants, painted both pieces. Duveneck studied and worked in Europe and became a world-renowned artist.
The triptych is read right to left. The far-right panel shows the sacrifice of the Old Law, the middle panel depicts Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and the last panel shows a modern Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
The mural on the west wall depicts Jesus breaking bread with two disciples at Emmaus (see Luke 24).
To learn more:
St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption is located at 1140 Madison Ave. in Covington, Kentucky, minutes from downtown Cincinnati. Tours are available. Visit CovCathedral.com for more information.