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Brooklyn's Two Cathedrals


Brooklyn is the fifth-largest Catholic diocese in the U.S., but it also boasts one of the smallest cathedrals—and, like Liverpool, it has a spare, a much-larger church used for larger ceremonies. Both are well worth a visit, though seldom mentioned among New York's attractions.


Two partially-correct solutions were offered by PortMoresby and George G, who both recognized details of the spare, St Joseph's Co-Cathedral, but missed the Cathedral itself.


Oddly, neither was ever meant to be a cathedral. Saint James Cathedral Basilica, originally built in 1822, was pressed into service when Brooklyn became a separate diocese in 1853.


Within ten years, plans were made for a new cathedral, construction was started and then abandoned when money ran out. In 1896, a new bishop, sure that the halted project could be resumed, designated Saint James a 'pro-cathedral,' a sort of stand-in status. In the 1970s, the 'pro' was dropped.


In the meantime, the 1822 building, destroyed in a fire, was replaced in 1903 by the present neo-Georgian brick church, around the corner from the Brooklyn Bridge. Its small size is clear, but so also is its beauty, both in its own form and the artwork it contains.

P1200571P1200572Especially gorgeous: a set of polychromed ceramic Stations of the Cross

But with a diocese that covers both Brooklyn and Queens and with a Catholic population nearing two million, Saint James is, and has been for most of its life, too small for the larger ceremonies and celebrations, and for years, many of them have been held at the larger churches built around the borough over the years.


One of those larger churches, Saint Joseph, a couple of miles away in the Prospect Heights neighborhood, became the scene for many of those larger celebrations. Because some rites can only be performed in an 'official' cathedral, an application was made to the Vatican, and in 2013, Saint Joseph was designated as a Co-Cathedral with Saint James.


Saint Joseph, like Saint James, is not the original church on the site. A smaller church was built in 1861, and replaced in 1912 by the present church, whose style has been described as Spanish Colonial, although it's fairly obvious that there are a lot of other styles mixed in!


The ornate main space of Saint Joseph can seat 1500, and its high ceilings make it seem even larger than it is.


The style of the two levels of stained-glass windows and other glass placements reflect both traditional themes, but show modern styles similar to the Beaux Arts work of Tiffany and Lafarge.


There's also room for a much larger organ than at Saint James, and more ornate decor surrounding it. In the preparation for its new status as a co-cathedral, the church's organ, which had fallen into disrepair, got a full rebuilding, while preserving its appearance and much of its works.


The artistic style of the early 20th century can be seen in other parts of the church as well, including around the altar and in the exuberant ceiling.


Other items reflect older traditions; on the whole, all works well together.


Best for last: the treasure of my visit to the two cathedrals: This statue, in the lobby of Saint Joseph's. I wish I could tell you more about it, but my inquiries have been dead end, and an email to the church has not been answered. I'd like to think it represents a wide variety of people, circumstances and trades moving together toward a new and better world.


The two churches are open to walk-in visitors most days; it's worth a phone call to check the hours, because the hours listed by Google and on the church websites may vary in current circumstances.

  • Saint James Cathedral Basilica, 250 Cathedral Place, 718-852-4002
  • Saint Joseph Co-Cathedral, 856 Pacific Street, 718-638-1071


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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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