Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

Cathedral Immaculate ConceptionThis postcard view, likely from the 1930s or so like the others we’ve been showing, shows the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany, on Eagle Street at the southwest corner with Madison Avenue. While of course there is no Cultural Education Center towering over it from behind, there’s an amount of license in showing a cleared grassy area up Madison Avenue, because in fact that stretch of Madison was packed with the usual three-story Albany row buildings, as you can see:

madison and eagle 1920s albany ny (Cathedral of the Immaculate conception of left)

Construction began on the cathedral and the cornerstone was laid in 1848, with the dedication in 1852. it was designed by Irish immigrant Patrick Keely, who designed something like 500 churches, many in the industrial towns of the northeast. Reportedly, it was only the second cathedral dedicated in New York (St. Patrick’s in NYC being the first). The Troy Daily Times reported on the dedication:

Solemn Dedication of the Albany Cathedral

According to previous arrangement, this imposing ceremony came off on Sunday, and was deeply interesting. It commenced about 9 o’clock A.M. There were two Archbishops, five Bishops and about one hundred Priests who officiated on the occasion.

The dedicatory service was performed by Archbishop Hughes, of New York. The clergy formed in procession from the two Sacristies on either side of the grand altar, and passed through the middle aisles to the front of the Cathedral outside, where the ceremony properly commenced.

After the appropriate prayers with the first blessing of the New Edifice were ended, the procession moved round the whole edifice, the clergy chanting the Miserere, and the dedicating Archbishop sprinkling the Cathedral with holy water as the procession moved round – using the prayers appropriate for the occasion.

Returning to the place in front of the Cathedral, the Solemn Entry was made. After the Archbishop had three times knocked at the gates of the main entrance, the clergy sang the Litany of the Saints, emblematic of the solemn entry into Heaven – the Temple not made by the hands of men …

During the Pontifical Mass, Archbishop Hughes took his throne, where he sat with this attendants until after the gospel, when he took off his mitre and cape, and ascended the pulpit, (also but temporarily erected,) in front of the sanctuary … He first alluded to the disappointment in the absence, by unexpected sickness, of the Archbishop Purcell, of Cincinnati, who was to have preached the dedication sermon, whose place he was now unexpectedly to fill.

He complimented the congregation at the early completion of so noble a structure, and quoted it as an evidence of the zeal and influence of their first Bishop, and his venerable clergy, and of the union also that existed betweeen the pastors and the flock.

He also highly complimented the architect and builders, and made allusions to the Right Reverend Bishops of Montreal, Bogota, etc,. who had honored the occasion with their presence …

This imperfect and hurried sketch does nothing like justice to the grand occasion, or eloquent extemporaneous discourse in any way, but may give an idea of the imposing solemnity of the occasion, and of the  joy that seemed to fill all hearts. There were present about from 4000 to 5000 people. Service will hereafter take place regularly at the Cathedral Church.

Dedication, as was often the case, did not mean completion; the spires were not complete in 1852, and the chancel had not been built. The north tower was completed in 1862, and, appropriately, Meneely bells from West Troy were hung. The south spire didn’t come until 1888.

While the cathedral was outside the area that was taken for the Empire State Plaza, its parishioners were not.  In addition to robbing the church of a neighborhood to serve, it is reported that the years of construction next door did damage to the cathedral building and rendered its pipe organ unusable. The cathedral did survive, however, and extensive renovations took place in the first decade of this century, with a reopening of the church in 2010.


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