Cathedral 101: Domus Dei is a study in Church history

What you should know about the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

By Emily Booker

A cathedral is more than a massive building, although it is that. It is more than a gathering spot, although it is that as well.

A cathedral is the heart of a religious community. It is the seat of the bishop, an heir to the Apostles. It is a spiritual home where families celebrate baptisms, first communions, confirmations, quinceañeras, marriages, and funerals.

It is a sacred space, where we gather with one another and with the communion of saints to give glory to God. The architecture and art of the new Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus is designed to help us achieve that goal. The cathedral educates us in our faith, guides us in our spiritual journey, and offers a transcendent refuge from worldly distraction.

Every detail in the cathedral is meant to inspire the worshipers who enter this holy space. Each piece of art is a visible expression of the truth of reality, meant to turn viewers’ minds toward God.

The cathedral layout is a cruciform style, resembling that of a cross when viewed from above. Transepts, or the arms of the cross, contain side chapels. The crossing is under the large dome, which is decorated with images of the Holy Family, Apostles, and saints.

“I wanted to make sure when we built the cathedral somebody couldn’t pinpoint when it was built, the decade. Because sometimes architecture reflects certain decades,” Bishop Richard F. Stika said. “I think our cathedral will be timeless. It’s traditional. Its focus is on the altar and the tabernacle.”

The marble altar of sacrifice for the new Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus shows intricately detailed mosaics. The altar will be one of many sacred elements of the cathedral that will be blessed and anointed during the March 3 Dedication Mass.

Domus Dei, House of God

The altar of sacrifice is the central focus of the cathedral, as it is where the Mass is offered. It is 11 feet long and made of Michelangelo Statuario marble, named such because it comes from the same quarry used for Michelangelo’s Pieta. Three mosaic medallions adorn the front of the altar: an angel with the symbols for alpha and omega, denoting Christ as the beginning and the end; a lamb sitting atop a scroll with seven seals, symbolizing Christ’s victory; and an angel with the chi-rho, the first two Greek letters for Christ.

Sacred Heart parishioners were able to write prayer intentions that were placed inside the altar. Atop the altar is a flat top called a mensa. The mensa weighs more than 2,500 pounds and is four inches thick. It has five crosses cut into the surface representing the five wounds of Christ.

Situated inside the altar is the reliquary, a container for relics. Almost every altar in a Catholic church contains at least one relic. This has been practiced since the early days of the Church and reminds us that when we celebrate Mass, the communion of saints celebrates with us.

Relics of Pope St. Clement of Rome and St. Laetus were placed in the current cathedral’s altar when it was consecrated in 1957. Their relics will be transferred to the new cathedral’s altar. A piece of the Holy Cross, gifted to the diocese by Cardinal Justin Rigali, will be added to the reliquary.

Additionally, relics of Sts. Teresa of Kolkata, Charbel Makhlouf, John Neumann, Frances Xavier Cabrini, John Bosco, Stanislaus Kostka, Josemaría Escrivá, Faustina, and Margaret Mary Alacoque will be included, as well as relics of three popes: Sts. John Paul II, John XXIII, and Pius X.

There also will be relics of three martyrs included: St. Andrew the Apostle, St. Maria Goretti, and Blessed Stanley Rother.

“They always suggest to have relics of martyrs in the altar,” Bishop Stika said. “So one will be St. Maria Goretti. The other is the most recent martyr declared in this area, in North America — it’s Blessed Stanley Rother, a priest from Oklahoma City. He was martyred back in the 1980s in Central America. And the third one I’m most pleased with is a relic of St. Andrew the Apostle, the brother of St. Peter.”

Behind the altar of sacrifice is the altar of repose, which holds the tabernacle. A tabernacle is a box in which the Blessed Sacrament is housed. The word comes from the Latin word tabernaculum meaning “tent.” The tabernacle in the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus has been repurposed from a closed church in Holland and is more than 100 years old.

“The quality of it is exceptional,” Father David Boettner, rector of Sacred Heart Cathedral and a vicar general for the Diocese of Knoxville, said. “It is a beautiful tradition to pass on sacred objects and reuse them from churches that are no longer able to use them. We were very excited to find a home for this tabernacle in our new cathedral.”

Weighing more than 500 pounds, the tabernacle is made of bronze and rose-colored marble. The interior is lined with Lebanon cedar. Images of wheat and grapes are carved into the doors, representing the elements used in the Mass. There also is a marble ciborium, a canopy over the tabernacle. The word comes from the Latin word cibo for food, thus a ciborium is a container for food. The ciborium has two Giallo Siena marble columns. On the front of the ciborium is carved the text “Ecce Agnus Dei,” (Behold the Lamb of God).

Among the most eye-catching elements in the new Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus is the large canopy over the altar — the baldacchino. It draws the eye down from the tall ceiling to the top of the altar where the sacrifice of the Mass is offered. The baldacchino in the cathedral is made of wood and finished with faux marble paint. It stands 45 feet high. While the baldacchino’s structure pulls the eye to the altar, its artful design accentuates what is taking place there.

The top of the baldacchino reflects an image of a city with windows and an arching gate. This reflects the heavenly Jerusalem coming down from heaven and represents the uniting of heaven and earth when Mass is celebrated, Father Boettner explained.

The drapery effect on the baldacchino represents the tent that housed the Ark of the Covenant as the Israelites journeyed through the desert.

“After they left the slavery of Egypt, they carried the Ten Commandments in the Ark of the Covenant with them and at the end of the day each day, they put that Ark of the Covenant in a tent, or a tabernacle. So that drapery around the baldacchino gives you the image of the tabernacle of the Ark of the Covenant where the Holy of Holies is, that this really is a place of the divine presence in our midst,” Father Boettner pointed out.

Inscriptions around the baldacchino further develop the Eucharistic theme. Along the outside, Bishop Stika’s episcopal motto is inscribed on the east side: “Iesu Confido In Te” (Jesus I trust in you). Around the north, west, and south sides is the Gloria Patri prayer invoking the Trinity: “Gloria Patri” (Glory be to the Father), “Et Filio” (And to the Son), “Et Spiriti Sancto” (And to the Holy Spirit).

On the inside of the baldacchino, Cardinal Rigali’s episcopal motto is inscribed on the west side: “Verbum Caro Factum Est” (The Word was made flesh). This phrase is found in the Gospel of John. On the south side is “Panis Vivus” (Bread of Life). On the east side is “Via Veritas et Vita” (The Way, The Truth, and The Life). On the north side is “Pastor Bonus” (the Good Shepherd).

Looking up from the floor of the cathedral reveals the Holy Family, the Twelve Apostles, the Evangelists, and saints.

A cloud of witnesses

The dome is the most recognizable feature of the cathedral from the outside. Inside, it also makes a big statement and is full of teaching images. The cathedral’s dome is inspired by the Duomo of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Italy. The dome of the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus is 144 feet from the cathedral floor to the top of the exterior cross and is held up by steel columns and tension. The dome’s eight sides serve as a reminder of the day of the resurrection.

“God created the world in six days and He rested on the seventh. Jesus rose from the dead early in the morning on the first day of the week, which would be Sunday. Often we call that day the Lord’s Day, and it is also referred to as the eighth day, the day of the new creation or re-creation of humankind, now liberated from the slavery of sin,” Father Boettner explained.

At the top of the dome is a cupola, or small dome. An oculus, or round opening, in the cupola allows for a shaft of light to beam down. At the top of the cupola is the image of a cross representing Jesus and a triangle representing the Trinity. There is the inscription “Credo In Unum Deum,” which means “I believe in one God” and is the first line of the Nicene Creed.

Images in the dome were handpainted by decorative artists from EverGreene Architectural Arts in New York. The artists painted the images onto canvas in their studio. The canvas paintings were then placed on the dome interior by hand.

“They’re classics,” Bishop Stika said. “I wanted something that looked kind of iconic, like icons. I like that artwork.”

An EverGreene artist paints the Sacred Heart of Jesus on a canvas that is the centerpiece of the dome.

Near the top of the dome, Jesus is seen revealing his Sacred Heart. The image is 25 feet tall with an arm-span of 17 feet. The image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is depicted by a heart pierced by a soldier’s lance, surrounded by a crown of thorns, and aflame with divine love. To the right of Jesus is the Blessed Mother, and to his left is St. Joseph. Surrounding the Holy Family are the Twelve Apostles:

St. Peter, the first pope, is shown holding a set of keys, indicating the keys of the kingdom of heaven when Christ said, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). The keys are used as symbols of the papacy. St. Peter is also shown with an upside-down cross. When he was martyred, he did not feel worthy to die as Christ did and requested that his cross be turned upside down.

St. Andrew is shown holding a scroll, symbolizing that he is a preacher of the Gospel, one who has been sent out to share the word of Christ. He is also shown with an X-shaped cross on which he was martyred.

St. Philip is shown with a basket of bread. When Jesus fed the 5,000, he asked Philip, “‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’… Philip answered him, ‘Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little’” (John 6:5,7). He also is holding a cross like the one Christ was crucified on, representing St. Philip preaching about Christ.

St. Matthew was a tax collector before becoming an apostle, so he is depicted holding money bags. He is also shown with a lance, the weapon of his martyrdom.

St. Jude Thaddeus is holding a ship representing the voyages he made in spreading the Gospel. He also is holding a club, the weapon of his martyrdom.

St. Matthias replaced Judas as one of the Twelve. He is holding a book as a sign of spreading the Gospel. He is also shown with an ax, the weapon of his martyrdom.

St. Simon, the brother of James and Jude, is holding a scroll indicating that he had been sent out to share the Gospel. He also is holding a saw, as he was martyred by being sawed into pieces.

St. James the Lesser was the first bishop of Jerusalem and was present at the Council of Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15. He is shown holding a fuller’s club, the instrument of his martyrdom.

St. Thomas is known by many as Doubting Thomas for his refusal to believe the resurrection until he touched the wounds of the resurrected Christ. St. Thomas built several churches in India and thus is shown holding a builder’s square. He also is shown holding a spear, the weapon of his martyrdom.

St. Bartholomew was flayed alive before being martyred by crucifixion. He is shown holding a knife and his flayed skin.

St. James the Greater, the son of Zebedee, is the only apostle whose martyrdom is recorded in Scripture. In Acts 12:1-2, James is killed under the order of Herod Agrippa. James is shown holding a book and a staff with shells on it, indicating his pilgrimage by sea to spread the Gospel.

St. John, “the beloved disciple,” became the bishop of Ephesus. He was the only apostle to die a natural death. He is shown holding a chalice of serpents, representing a poisoning attempt which he survived.

Just below the feet of the Holy Family and the Apostles is a frieze — a decorative band usually above a door frame or on the wall near the ceiling. The text of the frieze quotes a passage from Revelation 5:12: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing.”

Inside the dome drum are 16 saints. Many of the saints represent American Catholicism or nationalities found within the Diocese of Knoxville. They also represent an array of Christian virtues.

“There’s a variety of the saints that just capture the imagination of what is possible,” Bishop Stika said.

The bishop hopes that the saints represented in the dome serve as role models for people in this day and age, to reach out to all cultures and all people. The saints represented are:

St. Francis of Assisi: Well-known for his love of animals and nature, Francis founded the Franciscan order. Franciscans live an ascetic life and promote peace, justice, and a respect for creation. St. Francis of Assisi is depicted in the brown habit of his order. The three knots in the Franciscan censor represent the three vows taken by Franciscans: poverty, chastity, and obedience. He has the stigmata — the wounds of Christ — in his hands and feet and is holding the Rule of St. Francis. At his feet are two dogs representing Francis’ love for animals. In the tree beside St. Francis is a cardinal, a nod to Cardinal Justin Rigali, who is in residence in the diocese.

St. Patrick: The patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick is credited with the conversion of the Irish. First brought to Ireland as a slave, he escaped but returned as a priest in order to spread the Gospel. He became a bishop and converted many Irish to Christianity. St. Patrick is depicted in green vestments, green being the color of Ireland. He is wearing a bishop’s miter and holding a crozier with a snake beneath it, symbolizing the story that he ran the snakes out of Ireland. He also is holding a shamrock, which serves as a symbol of Ireland. The shamrock’s three leaves are also a reminder of the Trinity.

Between St. Francis of Assisi and St. Patrick is an olive tree representing the virtues of peace and charity.

St. Andrew Kim Taegon: The patron saint of Korea, Andrew Kim Taegon was the first Korean-born Catholic priest. He preached during a time when Christians were heavily persecuted in Korea. Thousands were martyred during this time. He was tortured and beheaded at the age of 25. He was canonized along with 102 other Korean martyrs. St. Andrew Kim Taegon is depicted wearing hanbok (traditional Korean dress), with a red stole representing his priesthood, and a gat (traditional Korean hat). He is holding a crucifix and an olive branch. The olive branch is a traditional sign of Christian martyrs.

St. Andrew Dũng-Lạc: Andrew Dũng-Lạc was a Vietnamese priest. Vietnamese Christians were persecuted during his time, and he was beheaded for his faith. He was canonized with 116 other Vietnamese Christians and foreign missionaries who were martyred. St. Andrew Dũng-Lạc is depicted holding a cross and giving a blessing, signs of his priesthood. He also is wearing traditional Vietnamese wooden sandals, called guốc mộc.

Between St. Andrew Kim Taegon and St. Andrew Dũng-Lạc is a dogwood tree representing purity. The dogwood tree can be found in parts of Asia as well as parts of North America, including Tennessee.

St. Maximilian Kolbe: Maximilian Kolbe was a Franciscan priest in Poland known as the Apostle of Consecration to Mary for his deep devotion to the Blessed Mother. During World War II, he sheltered refugees in his monastery. He was arrested and taken to Auschwitz. Men were chosen at random to face starvation as a warning against escape attempts. Father Maximilian Kolbe volunteered to take the place of a man who had a family. After two weeks of dehydration and starvation, he was the last of his group to remain alive. The guards gave him a lethal injection of carbolic acid. St. Maximilian Kolbe is depicted in a striped prison uniform. He is holding a rosary showing his love for the Blessed Virgin Mary and a scroll referencing John 15:13: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

St. John Neumann: The first male American citizen to be canonized, John Neumann immigrated to America from Bohemia as a missionary. He was ordained a priest in the Redemptorist order and focused on building schools. As the fourth bishop of Philadelphia, he was the first prelate to organize a diocesan school system. St. John Neumann is depicted wearing a Redemptorist habit and a red vestment signifying a bishop. He is holding a pectoral cross — a cross worn on the chest, usually by bishops. His right hand is giving a blessing.

Between St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. John Neumann is a Lebanon cedar tree representing fortitude.

St. Josephine Bakhita: Josephine Bakhita was born in the Sudanese region of Darfur. As a child she was kidnapped and sold into slavery. She was bought and sold several times, winding up in Italy. With the help of Canossian sisters, she advocated for her freedom. After being freed, she joined the Canossian order where she helped prepare sisters for missionary work in Africa. St. Josephine Bakhita is depicted in a Canossian habit. She wears broken chains around her wrists, symbolizing her enslavement and subsequent freedom.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux: Known as the Little Flower, Thérèse of Lisieux was a young Carmelite in France with a deep devotion to Jesus. She believed that small, simple acts could demonstrate great love. Her writings focused on love and simplicity, and she is now considered a Doctor of the Church.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux is depicted wearing the brown habit of a Carmelite. She is holding a crucifix symbolizing her devotion to Christ. She also holds a bouquet of roses, because on her deathbed she said, “After my death, I will let fall a shower of roses. I will spend my heaven doing good upon earth. I will raise up a mighty host of little saints.”

“She is called the Little Flower and associated with the way of loving because as she reflected on St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians about the different parts of the Body of Christ, she decided that she wanted to be the Heart of Jesus,” Father Boettner said. “It really makes sense to have Thérèse of Lisieux in this church because she wanted to love and be that love of Christ in the world, and she is.”

Between St. Josephine Bakhita and St. Thérèse of Lisieux is an olive tree representing peace and charity.

Pope St. John XXIII: As pope, John XXIII was known for his focus on peace and ecumenism. He opened the Second Vatican Council, the ecumenical council focused on pastoral direction and reaching out in evangelization. He was known for his pastoral approach to the papacy. Pope St. John XXIII is depicted in a white papal cassock. At his feet is a triple crown tiara once worn by popes. The triple crown represents the three-fold munera, or ministries, of priest, prophet, and king. John XXIII was the last pope to wear the tiara. He also holds a miniature version of the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in his arms.

“It’s not the building; it’s the opportunity to invite people to come close to Jesus,” Father Boettner said. “We felt it was appropriate for him to hold our new cathedral in his arms because I think he would be excited about what is happening here as well.”

Blessed Paul VI: As pope, Paul VI oversaw the implementation of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. He particularly emphasized the universal call to holiness — that all the faithful are called to a life of holiness. He affirmed Church teachings on social and economic rights and marital relations while encouraging ecumenical dialogue.

Blessed Paul VI is depicted in the white cassock of his papacy. He is holding a shepherd’s staff signifying his leadership. In his other hand are a copy of his encyclical Humanae Vitae and a crown of thorns. This represents holding true to the faith, even in the face of difficult or challenging teachings.

Between St. John XXIII and Blessed Paul VI is a date palm tree representing spiritual victory.

St. José Luis Sánchez del Río: José Luis Sánchez del Río lived in Mexico during a time of persecution. When he was caught by government officials, they tried to convince him to renounce the faith. But he exclaimed, “Viva Cristo Rey!” He was only 14 when he was martyred for refusing to renounce his faith. St. José Sánchez del Río is depicted holding a cross and an olive branch, signs of his love for Christ and his martyrdom.

St. Charbel Makhlouf: Charbel Makhlouf was a monk and priest in the Lebanese Maronite Order in Lebanon. The Maronite Rite is one of the Eastern Catholic Churches. He was given permission from his superior to go live as a hermit, spending time praying and worshiping in solitude. People in the nearby communities would often seek him out for healing and advice. St. Charbel Makhlouf is depicted in his black habit, holding a Maronite cross.

Between St. José Luis Sánchez del Río and St. Charbel Makhlouf is a Lebanon cedar tree representing fortitude.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton: Elizabeth Ann Seton had a heart for caring for the poor, widowed, and orphaned. Raised as a Protestant, she was received into the Catholic Church as an adult after learning about Catholicism from her late husband’s Italian business partners. Her passion for caring for the poor, particularly poor children, led to the establishment of the first order of religious sisters in the United States, the Sisters of Charity. She also established the first Catholic school for girls in the United States. She was the first native-born U.S. citizen to be canonized. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is depicted holding a rosary to symbolize her devotion to the Virgin Mary and a book to symbolize her commitment to Catholic education.

St. Rose Philippine Duchesne:

A French sister of the Religious Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Rose Philippine Duchesne founded the order’s first communities in the United States. She spent her life ministering on the frontier of the young nation. She is depicted holding a cross and map of the Americas indicating her mission work.

“[Her] community was involved in education. They still operate schools in St. Louis,” Bishop Stika said. “Eventually she went even farther west to work with the Native Americans, and one particular tribe, in their native language her name was ‘the woman who prays always.’ Now isn’t that a great example of what it means to be a person of faith?”

Between St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. Rose Philippine Duchesne is a dogwood tree representing purity.

St. Damien of Molokai: Damien was born in Belgium, where he joined the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. The brothers thought he was too uneducated to become a priest, but Damien demonstrated his strong desire to learn. He was sent to a mission in Hawaii, where he was ordained a priest. When a leper colony was established on the island of Molokai, Damien went to live with the lepers, providing leadership as well as medical and spiritual care. Damien died of leprosy that he contracted from serving the people of the leper colony and is recognized a martyr of charity.

St. Damien of Molokai is depicted in his clerics after he had contracted leprosy. One arm is in a sling, and he leans on a cane. At his feet is a pineapple, a symbol of Hawaii.

St. Vincent de Paul: Vincent de Paul was a priest in France who dedicated his time to preaching and giving relief to the poor. He founded the Ladies of Charity for lay women to serve the poor, founded the Vincentian order for priests, and cofounded the religious order the Daughters of Charity. He is sometimes referred to as the “Apostle of Charity” for his mission of serving the poor. St. Vincent de Paul is depicted holding a basket of bread to symbolize his giving to the poor.

Between St. Damien of Molokai and St. Vincent de Paul is a date palm tree representing spiritual victory.

Four pendentives sit at the base of the dome. A pendentive is a curved triangle permitting the placing of a circular dome over a square portion of a building. Each pendentive has a representation of one of the four Evangelists. These images create a tetramorph, four images that create one unit. The word tetramorph comes from the Greek words tetra, meaning four, and morph, meaning shape. The Evangelists are depicted with the four living creatures referenced in the books of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation. St. Irenaeus was the first to connect these creatures to the four Gospel writers.

Matthew is depicted with a winged man. This reminds us of Jesus’ humanity and his genealogy going back to King David. There is also a star of David and a scroll calling for the census in Matthew’s image, more references to Jesus’ Jewish lineage. Matthew’s Gospel traces Jesus’ lineage back to King David.

Mark is depicted with a winged lion. This reminds us of John the Baptist, who called out in the wilderness like a lion. Mark’s image includes a shell, symbolizing John baptizing Jesus, with the phrase, “Ecce Agnus Dei,” (Behold, the Lamb of God). There also is an image of a barren fig tree, a reference to the fig tree Jesus curses in Mark 11:12-25. Mark also is holding a book partially hidden under his cloak. This represents how in the Gospel of Mark no one recognizes Jesus as the Messiah until his crucifixion. The fullness of Jesus’ glory is hidden.

Luke is depicted with a winged ox. The ox was an animal used in Temple sacrifices. This reminds us of the sacrifices made in the Temple. It also alludes to the Canticle of Zechariah, which takes place in the Temple, according to Luke’s Gospel. Zechariah praises the coming of the Messiah. Lilies reference the verse Luke 12:27: “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.” There also is the image of an artist’s paints and brush, and Luke is holding an icon of the Blessed Mother holding the Infant Jesus. These remind us that Luke was the first iconographer, and also, his Gospel tells the infancy narrative of Jesus.

John is depicted with an eagle. This reminds us of Jesus’ higher nature, his divinity. John’s Gospel delves into the richness of salvation history. John is holding a book with the phrase “Et Verbum caro factum est,” meaning “And the Word became flesh.” John’s image includes a crucifix representing the mystery of Jesus’ Passion described in John’s Gospel. The image of grapes references when Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches,” in John 15:5.

Art and architecture come together inside the new cathedral.

Enter into His gates

When one enters the cathedral from the main doors, the first space is the narthex, or greeting area. Traditionally, catechumens remained in the narthex before receiving the sacraments of initiation. The cathedral will be home to several new statues in the narthex: statues of Sts. Peter, Paul, Teresa of Kolkata, and Faustina. A shrine to Pope St. John Paul II, who established the diocese in 1988, also will be added.

“Anytime we use images of the saints, what we’re really trying to do is help people visualize being in communion with saints who are in union with God,” Father Boettner said. “The saints inspire us to desire heaven and union with God.”

From the narthex, one enters into the nave, or the main body of the cathedral. The nave is where worshipers pray. The term comes from the Latin word navis, meaning ship. Around the nave is a band of text with 12-inch letters. It includes portions taken from the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Litany of the Sacred Heart makes 33 invocations to Jesus Christ, one for each year of his life.

Entering the nave from the narthex, there is a column on either side made of a type of marble called Giallo Siena because it has a gold tint to it and it comes from the Siena region of Italy. These gold columns act as trumpets, announcing the entrance into this sacred space. Along the sides of the nave are Carrara marble columns representing the pillars of the Church: people of faith. In the sanctuary, the heart of the church, red marble columns represent the heart of Christ.

The columns were raised by Rugo Stone, which also installed the marble flooring and the altar. Stretching down the marble floor of the nave toward the altar are seven red medallions for the seven sacraments.

Wrought iron lanterns fabricated by metal artist David Cianni, each weighing almost 600 pounds, hang above, illuminating the large space.

Providing an abundance of natural light are the three large rose windows on the north, west, and south sides of the cathedral. The windows are covered by metal grills, the details of which still teach about the faith through its art. The frames are designed to receive stained glass at a later time.

The north window grill has a circle of fish and netting. The fish and nets represent St. Peter, the fisherman, and his pastoral ministry as a fisher of men. The type of fish, pike, is representative of Bishop Stika. In Czech, the name Stika means pike. In the center of the circle are the Greek letters chi and rho, the first two letters of Christ in Greek. The south window grill has a circle made of a crown of thorns. In the center of the circle are spikes. These images represent Christ’s love and suffering for us.

Ninety custom-made pews by New Holland Church Furniture sit in the cathedral: 54 in the nave and 18 in each transept. The pews are made of cherry-stained white oak. At the end of each pew is a dogwood flower motif, a nod to the Diocese of Knoxville, as the diocesan crest includes a dogwood flower.

The ambo is the elevated area from which the Gospel is read. Built by David Tressler of Mountain View Millworks in Hedgesville, W.Va., the ambo is made of white oak with a cherry stain to match the pews. Carvings of the living creatures representing the four Evangelists are carved into the front of the ambo.

The white marble Stations of the Cross encircling the nave may look familiar to Sacred Heart parishioners. These images of Jesus’ journey from trial to crucifixion and burial hung in the old cathedral and were repurposed for the new cathedral. Similarly, the corpus of the crucifix — the body — which hangs behind the altar is from the old cathedral. It has been attached to a new cross made by Mountain View Millworks to better fit the space of the new cathedral.

Statues of St. Mary, St. Joseph, and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, made of white Carrara marble, also have been repurposed from the old cathedral.

In the south transept is a side altar dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The reredos, or ornamental screen behind the altar, is decorated in indigo with a fleur de lis pattern. At the top is an inscription: Sancte Maria, ora pro nobis, “Holy Mary, pray for us.”

The north transept altar is dedicated to St. Joseph and has a similar reredos. The wooden altars and reredoses were built by Mountain View Millworks and decorated with paint to appear as marble.

Near the sacristy will be a statue of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, alongside a memorial book honoring the deceased priests and deacons of the diocese.

“Each priest will have his own page and hopefully a photograph and a bit of history so that people will always have a sense of some of the leadership in the diocese,” Bishop Stika said.

It wouldn’t be a cathedral without a cathedra, or bishop’s seat. The word cathedra means “chair” in Latin. A church which houses the bishop’s chair is called a cathedral. The cathedra represents the bishop’s teaching authority, which has been passed down directly from the Apostles. Above the chair, designed by Art Clancy III of Clancy Custom Woodworking in Knoxville, is Bishop Stika’s coat of arms in marble.

Clancy Custom Woodworking also handcrafted the architrave, the inscription band that goes all the way around the nave that contains excerpts from the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Set in the south transept, the baptismal font will be used in the initiation of new Christians for generations. Made of marble, the bowl of the new baptismal font is about three feet in diameter and carved by Rugo Stone. Wavy lines on the font represent the flowing waters of baptism.

Eight bronze medallions circle the font. Two represent scenes from the Old Testament: Adam and Eve and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which introduced original sin into humanity, and Jonah in the belly of the whale, a prefigurement of Christ in the tomb. Two medallions represent scenes from the New Testament: Peter casting his net into the water and Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. The last four medallions are clamshells, signs of baptism. The bowl has a wood covering made by Mountain View Millworks. Atop the covering is a bronze statue of John the Baptist by Nick Ring Studio, which also produced the medallions.

The height and majesty of the new cathedral keeps our eyes gazing toward heaven, and all the details throughout serve to keep our minds and hearts on God as we gather there as a community for worship.

Though the dedication of the cathedral will take place at noon on March 3, that does not mean that the cathedral project will be “finished” on that date. Set to serve Catholics in East Tennessee for centuries, the cathedral will accumulate more art and memorials from the faithful community that calls it home. Coming generations will build upon the foundation laid now.

“Cathedrals are ever-evolving,” Bishop Stika said. “And I hope each generation makes a contribution to its beauty.”

Comments 1

  1. Enjoyed reading the details of this beautiful design that no doubt will give us a feeling if heaven. Can’t wait for the privilege to attend Mass there in the near future.

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