Tradition Reborn: Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart, Knoxville, Tennessee

This past weekend saw the culmination of the three year long period in which a new cathedral, the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart, was constructed in the diocese of Knoxville, Tennessee. The project began on April 19th, 2015 and was the work of McCrery Architects of Washington D.C. and BarberMcMurry Architects of Knoxville. The Mass of Dedication was celebrated by Bishop Richard F. Stika with various other prelates in attendance.

The new cathedral is classically designed and replaces the older, architecturally modernist cathedral (which was formerly a parish church prior to the establishment of the Knoxville diocese), built in the 1950's.

The former cathedral
The new cathedral
The exterior of the cathedral is classically inspired, with a dome reminiscent of that found on the duomo of Florence.  The structure is cruciform in shape and handsomely clad in limestone that was quarried from Indiana, giving a warm, inviting appearance to the cathedral that is matched by the sense is stability and permanence that it concurrently gives.

Internally this classical theme continues.

A view of the great dome. An image of the Sacred Heart is surrounded by the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph and the Twelve Apostles. Various other saints are found beneath this including St. Therese of Lisieux.  Both Latin and English texts feature here with the saints names being written in Latin, along with the pinnacle of the dome having the Latin words of the beginning of the Creed. Beneath that, in English, are the words of Revelation 5:12: "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain..." 
As we begin to look downward from the dome and turn our attention to the most important and central feature of the cathedral, the high altar, one will take note that it is properly covered by a ciborium magnum. The ciborium has various decorative details and is ornamented by traditional Latin texts on each side.

Image taken from the Mass of Dedication
Detail of the ciborium

The cathedra of the bishop is located on the gospel side of the high altar, with the tabernacle located centrally behind the high altar.

Image from the Mass of Dedication
I am pleased to report as well that the altar is indeed placed upon a predella, thus helping to demarcate the altar from the rest of the sanctuary.

The altar itself is made of beautiful coloured marbles which were quarried from Italy and includes in its central design the symbol of the Lamb of God -- tying back into the scriptural verse on the dome above -- as well as two six-winged seraphs on either side with the ancient Christian symbols of the Chi-Rho and Alpha and Omega respectively.

Behind the altar and looking toward the tabernacle are six candlesticks and above the tabernacle a noble crucifix. Particularly striking, however, is the gold stencilling on the cream coloured walls which give the space some important bit of ornamentation and visual interest. Also worth noting here are the designs of the windows (which are repeated throughout the cathedral) which present an under-utilized but traditional option in church window design outside of the stained glass tradition.

It is worth noting that the altar candlesticks proper are placed on the floor around the altar. While it would be better and preferred that they should be on the altar itself in traditional Roman form as per the "Benedictine arrangement" (both as a means to orient the liturgy and also as a means of better emphasize the centrality of the high altar and harmonize it with the vertical thrust of the ciborium) we are pleased to report that at very least the all important central altar cross is indeed to be found on the high altar.

Finally, before we leave our consideration of this beautiful new cathedral, here is a look back through the nave toward the narthex, as well as one final view taken from the choir loft back toward the high altar.

A triumph and a cathedral worthy of the name. The Diocese of Knoxville along with McCrery Architects are to be heartily congratulated on building a temple that will doubtless inspire countless generations by its classical beauty.

Photo credits: Sacred Heart Cathedral

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