The First Cathedral of San Francisco: Old St. Mary’s Church

November 3, 2015 | By | Reply More
Old St. Mary's Cathedral circa 1870

Old St. Mary’s Cathedral circa 1870

The third pioneer Catholic church in San Francisco has the distinction of having been the first cathedral in San Francisco.

Known now as “Old St. Mary’s” and located on California Street at Grant Avenue it was dedicated by Archbishop Alemany at Christmas Mass is 1854.

There was some difficulty in obtaining building materials as much of the stone was quarried and cut in China and shipped to San Francisco to be assembled for the foundation according to prefabrication plans.

The brick for the walls was brought from New England around the Horn in sailing ships.

Many were the difficulties that were met and surmounted in its construction and it was a legitimately proud Archbishop Alemany who, as celebrant of a Pontifical Mass as midnight, made the Christmas of 1854 memorable in local Catholic annals.

Small wonder that the delighted Alemany thus wrote to his mother in Vich, Spain:

The Cathedral is large, not so large as that of Vich, and all were surprised to find it as fill as an egg.
One hour before the ceremony, the people were hurrying to the bell tower and to the galleries.
I do not remember having seen a church more crowded.

Breadline at St. Mary's Cathedral after the 1906 earthquake

Breadline at St. Mary’s Cathedral after the 1906 earthquake

Although not yet complete, the structure reverberated that night in frontier San Francisco to the sound of music as majestic as could be heard in the cathedral o Europe.

Suffice it to remark that within its sacred walls have been written some of the more substantial pages of the Catholic history of San Francisco.

St. Mary’s Cathedral was dedicated on Van Ness Avenue at O’Farell Street; the first cathedral became known as Old St. Mary’s Church.

At the present time, under the devoted care of the Paulist Fathers, it remains a major factor in the continuing work of Catholicism in the city.

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Category: Fog City - City of Fog, History

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