The first Mass celebrated inside a Catholic church in Colorado was at St. Mary’s on Christmas Eve in 1860. French missionary Father Joseph Machebeuf (later the first bishop of Denver) presided. In 1902, 42 years after that first Mass, and eight years after the completion of the Colorado State Capitol Building in Denver, the ground was broken for the Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. The building began after four parishioners paid $28,000 for land within walking distance of the Capitol.
With the dedication of the cathedral in 1912, The Rocky Mountain News said, “May the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception long stand, its spires an expression of the questioning, upturned face of humanity, its chimes an eternal call to the spirituality that stirs within us, and its doors a haven to the weary-hearted in search of hope and rest!”
Most notable in the church today are the exceptional stained-glass windows that were crafted by F.X. Zettler’s Royal Bavarian Art Institute in Munich, Germany.
Rich and bright, the windows around the cathedral depict the lives of Christ and Mary. The west transept window shows Pope Pius IX solemnly defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, 1854; underneath and around this scene are pictured the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. The east transept window depicts the Third Ecumenical Council in Ephesus, held in 431, which proclaimed Mary as the Theotokos (meaning “Mother of God”), whom the Church celebrates each Jan. 1. Pictured underneath and around this are the Glorious Mysteries. The Sorrowful Mysteries are above the high altar. Each of these breathtaking transept windows consists of 20,000 pieces of stained glass.
The main altar table bas relief was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, while the inspiration for the 30-foot-high main altar statue of Mary was inspired by Bartolome Murillo’s famous work the Assumption of the Blessed Mother.
Italian Carrara marble was used for statues, altars, pedestals, the bishop’s throne and altar rail. Colorado yule marble was used for the confessional, vestibules, balustrades and pillar bases. This marble is mined from a mountain that is 9,000 feet high. It can only be found in the Yule Creek Valley in Colorado; it is without blemish, smooth and reflects light well. The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., is also made from this marble.
The rose window behind the organ, another masterpiece, depicts St. Cecilia and six angelic musicians. In addition, the organ is the original 3,000-pipe Kimball organ.
Visit of a Saint
One of the greatest events in the history of the cathedral occurred in 1993, when Pope John Paul II visited during Denver’s World Youth Day.
To commemorate his visit, there is a beautiful life-size statue of St. John Paul II, created by Polish sculptor Jacek Osadczuk. It was blessed and dedicated in May 2009. It was installed in April of that year, on the fourth anniversary of the Polish pontiff’s death.
My prayer in front of that statue, in this beautiful testament to faith in the heart of the Rockies, sought the intercession of that saint for our country.
As John Paul told the gathered bishops in this cathedral more than 20 years ago, “Let us commend these days to Mary, the Seat of Wisdom. Let us entrust to her all the young people who have come here. Let us entrust to her the Church of the young throughout the world, in every country and on every continent.” May the same be said of all of us today.
James Carmody writes
from Stratford, Connecticut.
The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception
1530 Logan St.
Open 6am to 6pm Monday to Saturday and 7am to 8pm Sunday.
Directions: From Union Station or anywhere along the popular 16th Street Mall, hop on the free “Mall Ride Bus” to West Colfax Avenue. Get off at the last stop, which is Broadway and West Colfax Avenue. Cross over Broadway, and you will see the cathedral a few blocks away.
Saturday Evening Vigil: 4:30pm
Sunday: 8:30, 10:30am, 12:30pm & 6:30pm
Monday-Friday: 7:00am, 12:10 & 5:30pm
Monday-Friday: 6:30am & 11:30am
Saturday: 6:30am & 3pm