St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption

Walking up to the Southern side of the Basilica, one’s eyes are drawn up in astonishment at the sight of this amazing structure.  Flying buttresses line the exterior of the Basilica in true, Gothic architectural style.  Nestled between them are gorgeously designed stained glass windows whose true beauty can only be witnessed from inside the church itself.  Entering the gardens surrounding the structure, a feeling of peace and calm engulfs the onlooker with the meditative patter of the water in a circular fountain, flanked only by greenery, brushing together in the soft breeze.  More gardens await visitors proceeding around the Eastern and Southern grounds of the Basilica.  Interesting statues fill nooks and crannies of this tranquil area, including one of Mary standing in prayer, while a snake with an apple in its mouth, slithers at her feet. 

No details were left absent when coming to the entryways found throughout the area.  On one small entrance, one can find beautiful voussoirs above the door, with small cherub faces on each side.  A more grand and elaborate scale can be found in the front, Westward-facing side of the Basilica at the church’s portal.   Located at the trumeau, between the doors themselves, sits a statue of Mary and child in the round.  Above this, at about 2 stories high, the voussoirs are carved in many vines and leaves, cascading your eyes down to the undecorated jambs along the side.  These jambs have purposely been left empty for artists of the future to fill.  A high relief carving of Mary’s Assumption into Heaven is found in the tympanum of the portal.  The carving demonstrates a beautifully executed atmospheric perspective, where figures that need to appear closer to us are carved in higher relief than figures presented as further away.  Directly above, is a magnificent stained glass rose window, centered by two double lancet windows.  Guarding the very top of this amazing structure are 26 fascinating Gargoyles of many different sizes and creeds.

Walking through the doorway on the Northern side of the Basilica is utterly breathtaking.  Eyes begin to slowly rise along the Corinthian-style pillars until they reach the Gothic ribbed vaulting ceilings, reaching a staggering 81 feet high.  Along the inside of the outer walls, but closer to the floor, are mosaic tiles depicting the 12 stages of the cross.  Each stage has its own panel and consists of over 1000 separate tiles.  Just above these, the walls themselves seem to glow from the many awe-inspiring stained glass windows that seem endless in beauty as well as in size.  One of these in particular dominates the Northern wall of the church. At 67 feet tall and 24 feet wide, it is the largest church stained glass window in the world.  Lined along the bottom part of this massive window are depictions of Catholic Saints.  Above these Saints, Mary and Jesus are in front of a massive ball of golden light (seeming to represent God) and flanked by angels and cherubs alike.  Along the edge of the golden circle, blue cherubs are strategically placed to imitate the blue of the sky. 

The most sophistically carved wood stands just feet away from this magnificent window.  Located in the Sanctuary and behind the High Alter, highly detailed figures reside along the pillars of the piece, while a crucifix hangs almost freely from underneath the towering pinnacle of this carved wood piece.  Behind this, the church’s apse houses many more fantastically crafted stained glass lancet windows.  The morning light spilling through the colorful glass seems to dance off and around the wooden figures before it. 

The only walls holding painted murals can be found almost hidden in a Southern section of the church, called the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.  Lancet-like panels section one of these painted murals into three sections and give the piece a narrative quality.  In the main center panel, Jesus is depicted in his sacrifice on the cross with Mary Magdalene at his feet.  Another panel depicts the Eucharist, while the last one shows a sacrifice in the Old Testament.  These scenes are transformed into a single painting only by the angels surrounding Jesus as he ascends into Heaven.  Directly across from this painting, on a parallel wall, another painting lies along the wall.  Strangely enough, there is a man shown wearing eyeglasses in a time before they were invented.  The colors, bright and noble, stand out proud against the neutral wall colors of the Basilica.  A golden, Byzantine-style alter can be found between these two colorful paintings, and houses many flowers and candles.  Just above this, one’s attention travels to another stained glass window in all its grandeur.  Possibly telling the story of when Moses let the slaves through the desert for 40 days and 40 nights, food is poured down from the sky on the left side of the window and water on the right.  Many faces make up this scene, but it is not the faces but the symbols hidden among them that are truly fascinating. 

Jesus’ “Sacred Heart” symbol can be found not only in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, but in other windows and figures as well.  The “Sacred Heart” is a representation of a heart with a crown of thorns around it, and either a burning cross or fire alone, at the top of this heart.  This symbolizes His divine love for Humanity.  Another symbol found next to this sacred heart, is the “Eye of Prominence,” which is a triangle with an eye in the center usually with rays of light shining from behind it.  This is sometimes known as the eye of God watching mankind, but is more widely known as a symbol of the Freemasons, who had much influence on religious buildings throughout history.

The Northern area of the Nave holds a true work of art in the Cathedral Baptistery.  A light trickle of water falls out of small octagon-shaped basin of water atop a remarkable pillar, into another larger octagon basin set into the floor about a foot deep.  Inside the larger basin is a beautiful design of turquoise tile work lined with gold, glimmering tile oriented into a cross-like pattern.  The pillar is carved to look as though it is an apple tree, and Adam and Eve stand shamefully in the front.  The sides of the smaller basin house alternating elements of bah relief artwork and scripture written in Latin.  One side depicts a ship with the symbol of Christ, shown as the symbol on its sail; while another has a carving of sheep in a field.  Both of these are referencing Christ and his followers.  Jesus was said to be “The Fisher of Men,” which refers to the sail on the boat and the sheep are symbols for his followers.

The trip to St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica in Covington was absolutely amazing.  Completely awe inspiring and breath-taking, this church is a sight to behold.  This visit brings architecture and sculpture to life with an amazing discovery around every turn.  Every art piece was another treasure in and of itself, and I cannot wait to bring friends and family on my next visit to share with them the overwhelming wonder.


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