Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Cathedrals As Servants

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The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany, NY was rededicated by Bishop Howard J. Hubbard, D.D., on Sunday, November 21, 2010. The event provided our Diocese with an opportunity to focus on the meaning of a cathedral in the 21st century. This  article was the second of three written for the parishes and institutions of the Diocese of Albany.

Between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries in France tons of stone were quarried for the building of some 80 cathedrals according to Jean Gimpel in his book The Cathedral Builders. These giant edifices were constructed as examples of the powerful presence of the Catholic religion in pre-Reformation times. Funded by wealthy patrons, built by guilds and staffed by religious personnel these cathedrals served as the centers of civilization. In some areas they were so big the entire population of the town could gather inside.

The cathedral of yesteryear was a busy, multi-tasking servant. Many diverse activities took place within its hallowed walls. The primary event of course was prayer. The Eucharist and other sacraments along with the Divine Office were celebrated with the townspeople. Often built like fortresses, the building provided shelter and security especially when the village was raided by bands of outlaws or even large armies. The cathedral was also a hospital where people could be treated for various illnesses. They were packed during plagues. Festivals of crafts, music, drama and food were also held inside and outside these large halls.

Similarly, Cathedrals in the United States continue the tradition of serving the population living in the shadows of their spires, the daily visitors who work nearby and the pilgrims who journey from afar. Along with a vibrant liturgical life many of these modern day servants sponsor education programs, concerts and art exhibits. Outreach programs like food pantries, soup kitchens, counseling services and second hand clothing stores are often housed in the cathedral itself or a nearby facility.

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is in an ideal location in downtown Albany, New York. There it can serve not only its parishioners but also other people seeking day to day sustenance and spiritual nourishment. New life has been breathed into our Cathedral building. Now, new life can be breathed into all the people it serves.


Author: Richard S. Vosko

Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an internationally known sacred space planner. He is a presbyter in the Diocese of Albany who enjoys the classroom as much as the pulpit. On Sundays he presides at worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. For more information on Vosko’s background, his projects, publications and speaking engagements please go to his website. For his homilies and occasional musings about religion, art and architecture go to his blog. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcomed there.

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