The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland will commemorate the 150th anniversary of its cathedral’s dedication this weekend.

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception was dedicated on Sept. 8, 1869. The traditional Gothic Revival structure remains the tallest building in Portland and a historic presence in the city’s skyline. The diocese announced in a news release Friday that Bishop Robert Deeley would celebrate a special anniversary Mass at the cathedral at 10 a.m. Sunday.

Stained-glass windows were installed in the early 20th century at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Photo courtesy of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland Photo courtesy of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland

The announcement quotes the Rev.. I.T. Hecker from the original dedication Mass in the 19th

century: “They have erected the noblest and most elegant of structures.”

Pope Pius IX established the diocese in July 1853. Until New Hampshire was established as its own diocese in 1884, it included both states. Bishop David Bacon, the first to lead the diocese, struggled to purchase land for a cathedral and eventually bought the site at what was then Cumberland Street between Franklin and Locust streets. In Catholicism, a cathedral is the site of the bishop’s chair and considered the heart of a diocese.

A cathedral chapel was finished in December 1856, but construction on the rest of the cathedral stalled during the Civil War. It restarted in 1866 under the direction of Patrick Keely, who is considered the most prominent architect of American Catholic churches during that time period. The Great Fire of Portland destroyed the nearly completed walls on July 4 of that year, and the bishop went on a fundraising tour through the Northeast and Canada. The cathedral was rebuilt and dedicated in 1869. That night, a storm knocked down the steeple, but the replacement has remained standing ever since.

The vaulted ceiling rises 70 feet tall, and the main aisle is 150 feet long. The Gothic Revival style was inspired by the Middle Ages in Europe. Stained-glass windows were installed in the early 20th century. In 1930, the mosaic Stations of the Cross were installed, each one handmade out of 6,000 quarter-inch pieces of Venetian glass.

“The new Stations are accredited with being among the finest here or abroad,” the Portland Press Herald reported on May 18, 1930.

The cathedral was renovated in light of the Second Vatican Council in 1965. Some elements, like the steeple and bell tower, have been restored in recent years.

“This is truly a magnificent place, a noble and uplifting building which turns our hearts and minds to God,” Bishop Joseph J. Gerry, the 10th bishop in Maine, wrote on the cathedral’s 125th anniversary. “We are called to make sure that this church remains the beacon of faith and charity which it has been in this city and state for many years.”


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