Monday, December 1, 2008

Baltimore Basilica

Me and Mrs. Sgt. Tanuki were in Baltimore for the Thanksgiving holiday. While there spent a pleasant afternoon wandering around the Mt. Vernon area, and we ended up at the Baltimore Basilica.

Like the city it graces, the Basilica is off the beaten path for most tourists, but it's one of the great buildings the Tanuki has seen in this country. Take a look here, and read up on its history here.

In brief, it was designed in 1805 by Benjamin Latrobe, who also designed the U.S. Capitol. The Basilica uses a lot of the same ideas: classical columns and a dome inspired by the Pantheon. All of this gives the exterior an unexpected look for a cathedral.

The interior is just as surprising. The ornamentation is not exactly minimalist, but definitely understated. Most remarkable is the color scheme, which has recently been restored to Latrobe's original vision: lots of white, with delicate pink and blue accents. In all, it's entirely different from, say, the shadowy, suggestive depths of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, or the dizzying detail on every interior surface of the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis, or the colorful Southwestern primitivism of the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City (which happen to be the other important U.S. cathedrals the Tanuki has visited).

The windows complete the vision. Evidently the Basilica had stained glass windows until a recent restoration, but that wasn't what Latrobe had originally intended, and in the renovation they went back to the clear glass windows he had called for. As a result, the interior is flooded with calm white light which interacts with Latrobe's airy color scheme to create an atmosphere of lightness and glory. It uplifts you, gently, rather than overwhelming you. The Old Cathedral in St. Louis has something of the same feel, with its clear windows and delicately modulated colors, but architecturally, that building feels little different than a normal church. The Baltimore Basilica is unmistakably monumental.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it feels closest to some of the monuments and early government buildings in D.C. It shares the same vision of rationality and spirituality supporting each other, and finding expression in an aesthetic that is at once direct and elegant.

It's one of the most beautiful buildings I've ever been in.


Daniel said...

But was it in The Wire?? I feel like it was, just can't remember which season/episode.

Tanuki said...

I don't know. I only just started watching the Wire on DVD. If it was in an episode, it could have been the last season: that would have been around the time the restoration was going on, and so the building's public profile would have been pretty high...

mark said...

Did you like the pews?, we built the pews
exactly like Latrobe designed them, using
1805 techniques, quite challenging!

Mark Davidson

Tanuki said...

I mainly noticed the color of the pews. I like that they're white: it contributes to the light and airy feeling of the interior. I assume the color was Latrobe's original choice as well?

mark said...

Everything that was done at the Basilica
was taking it back to Latrobe's original design

They had some beautiful walnut pews in the
Basilica, but they weren't historicly correct. The gave the pews to a church in VA. They had
incredible Connick neo gothic stained glass
windows, that obviously belong in this type
of architecture. The windows were given to a
church in the archdiocese