Celebrating more than 170 Years of Worship

Photo provided by St. Peter in Chains Cathedral


More than 170 years ago, on November 2, 1845, amidst great celebration, St. Peter in Chains, the new cathedral church of the Diocese (later Archdiocese) of Cincinnati was dedicated. It was a culmination of more than five years of planning, work and sacrifice. 

The first cathedral had been built 19 years earlier on Sycamore Street, but by the late 1830s it was too small for the city’s rapidly growing Catholic population. Property was purchased at the corner of Plum and Eighth streets in 1840 and the cornerstone was laid on May 20, 1841. Construction was halted a number of times, however, due to lack of money and the difficulty of obtaining limestone from which the cathedral is constructed. That material had to be shipped by boat down the Miami-Erie Canal from Dayton. 

After what must have seemed interminable delays, St. Peter in Chains was ready for dedication on November 2, 1845 Bishops from throughout the country, provincials of religious orders, priests from throughout Ohio and Kentucky, seminarians, Jesuit scholastics and a throng of laypersons attended. The ceremony lasted nearly four hours. 

Bishop John Baptist Purcell determined the style in which his new cathedral was designed. The most important buildings of his day, both secular and religious, were being built along classical Greek lines. He wanted the Catholic cathedral to be as imposing and as beautiful as any of these buildings. To accomplish that, he hired architect Henry Walter, a leading advocate of Greek Revival architecture. He also designed the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, which was completed in 1861.

Since its completion St. Peter in Chains Cathedral has been recognized as a stunning example of Greek Revival architecture. Writing about the cathedral in 1851, Charles Cist noted, “It is the finest building in the west and the most imposing, in appearance, of any cathedrals in the United States.”

By the time of its 100th anniversary, however, the stately building had fallen into significant disrepair, the victim of a deteriorating neighborhood and the flight of the city’s population to the suburbs. It had lost its status as the cathedral church. St. Monica, in Fairview, had been designated as the cathedral church in 1938. By the 1950s, when Karl J. Alter was appointed the Archbishop of Cincinnati, he faced a difficult decision: tear down the old cathedral or renovate it. 

The good news for the cathedral was that a master plan for the rebirth of downtown had been developed. With an eye to the future, Archbishop Alter became one of the first investors in the city’s redevelopment plan when he chose to restore and expand St. Peter in Chains. The work began in 1953 and took four years to complete. Today, the beautiful edifice that once again serves as the cathedral church of the archdiocese stands a monument to both the original vision of Bishop Purcell and the courage of Archbishop Alter to rescue the old cathedral from oblivion. 

The renovation added considerably to the cathedral’s size. The transepts containing the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and baptismal font as well as the present sanctuary and sacristies were all grafted to the building without destroying its integrity, a conscious effort having been made to preserve its classical Greek character. 

St. Peter in Chains offers three masses a day Monday through Friday (7:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 5:15 p.m.). Saturday masses are 11:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Sunday masses are 8:30 a.m., 11 a.m. (choir) and 6 p.m.

“We invite you to come and join us each week in praise of God,” says Father Barry Windholtz.

St. Peter in Chains Cathedral is located at 325 West Eighth Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202. For more information, call 513.421.5354 or visit www.stpeterinchainscathedral.org.