Visiting the Insanely Beautiful Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia

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The Benjamin Franklin Parkway in downtown Philadelphia is known for its many great museums. From the Philadelphia Museum of Art, to the Franklin Institute and the Rodin Museum, there is something for everyone to see. However, one of the parkway’s top highlights is often overlooked: the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul.

Located across Logan Circle from the Franklin Institute and the Academy of Natural Sciences,  the brownstone covered exterior struck me as a bit odd for a cathedral but does fit well into the architecture of Philadelphia.

Above the brownstone is an oxidized copper dome that hints at the beautifully painted ceilings that lie within the church. The green of the oxidized copper set against the brownstone creates one of the most interesting looking cathedrals I’ve seen.

Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia at Night
The dome of the Cathedral Basilica is seen amongst the skyline of Philly.

Construction on the cathedral basilica started in 1846 and was completed in 1864 at both the height of the Civil War and anti-Catholicism in the country. Because of this, you may notice that the cathedral’s only windows are located in the highest reaches of the building.

This was done purposefully to avoid vandalism that had been inflicted on other Catholic churches. According to legend, the basilica’s designers would throw rocks in the air to determine how high the windows must be placed to avoid vandals.

Inside the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The interior of the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul is truly breathtaking.

As I walked into the basilica, I was instantly blown away. Bathed in a soft golden hue, the cathedral was even more striking on the interior than I had imagined. In fact, it reminded me of some of the more beautiful European cathedrals that I’ve seen in my travels.

As with most Catholic cathedrals, the painted domes are the real highlight of any visit to the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. The frescoes high above were done by artist Constantino Brumidi, who is most famous for his work on the Capitol dome in Washington, DC.

The church is designed, as many cathedrals are, with a wide center seating and altar area and two smaller aisles that have artwork and more private altars. The artwork in the small naves is pleasant, but not spectacular.

The beautiful interior of the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia.
The beautiful interior of the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul.

However, the overall look of the cathedral is quite beautiful. As the only Roman-Corinthian style church in America, it’s well worth a look at the unique building style. And, given that it’s located so close to some of Philadelphia’s top attractions, there’s no reason not to pop in for a quick look around the beautiful Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul.

For more information on the cathedral or to download a free 20-minute audio guide for your mp3 player, check out their website.

Want to see more beautiful churches? Check out our favorite historic churches in Philly, the nearby Bryn Athyn Cathedral, and the most beautiful churches in Pittsburgh.

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