New light and life brought to Cathedral of the Holy Cross with a renovation of its vast interior
Elkus Manfredi Architects designed the renovation of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross to bring new life to its vast interior. Through a host of improvements in the revitalized sanctuary and nave and newly illuminated stained glass, this unifying renovation reinvigorates the Cathedral as a beacon of support in the community.
Originally consecrated in 1875 and built in the Gothic Revival style using local Roxbury puddingstone and gray limestone trim, the Cathedral of the Holy Cross measures 364 feet long, 90 feet wide, and 120 feet high from the finished basement floor to the ridge of the nave attic. The largest church in New England, the Cathedral had not had a comprehensive renovation in decades and suffered from deferred maintenance.
Before Elkus Manfredi was commissioned for the project, the Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal O’Malley, was inspired by another church’s illuminated stained glass windows, and he worked to bring backlighting to the windows in the Cathedral’s Blessed Sacrament Chapel. From there, the much-needed renovation project gained momentum.
Awards & Recognition
This renovation has received multiple design awards including:
- Preservation Achievement Award, Boston Preservation Alliance
- AIA for Interfaith/Faith&Form Religious Architecture – Renovation
- Architetecture MasterPrize for Restoration & Renovation
- Society of British & International Design (SBID) Awards for Public Spaces
- Gold in Interior Design. International Design Awards (IDA) for Religious, symbolic and spiritual buildings/monuments
- Renovating and revitalizing the Cathedral’s sanctuary and nave to create a more expansive environment that brings the congregants closer to the altar
- Adding new floor finishes, refreshed interior finishes, and new liturgical appointments and furnishings
- Illuminating all of the Cathedral’s soon-to-be-restored stained glass windows with backlighting
- Designing the sensitive integration of new mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems, including first-ever air conditioning for the sanctuary and nave, and fire protection systems
- Redesigning the sanctuary’s lighting to create a new, refined lighting environment for the Cathedral’s interior that will also allow events to be broadcast without the need for supplemental lighting
- Upgrading the building’s systems infrastructure to support the installation of new robotic cameras necessary for broadcast programming
- Designing historically sensitive and architecturally discreet accessibility
- Repainting the Cathedral’s interior, refreshing its long-standing white aesthetic
- Installing new stone floors in the sanctuary, nave, and Our Lady’s Chapel that are more durable and require less maintenance
- Structural upgrades to sanctuary for new stone/marble liturgical appointments and revising sanctuary configuration.
Project challenges include:
- Create an inviting, more spacious, refreshed sanctuary and nave
- Integrate new modern MEP systems seamlessly, including lighting, air conditioning, audiovisual, broadcast, and TV
- Design ADA improvements with sensitivity to the Cathedral’s sacred space
Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross is being transformed through a unifying renovation design that is much greater than the sum of its parts. Developed in collaboration with the Archdiocese, Elkus Manfredi’s design solutions for the renovation include:
- Reconfigured sanctuary to create a more open and expansive space: The Cathedral’s sanctuary—the raised platform upon which the altar sits—had become crowded as the result of a 1980s renovation that changed the once flat-floored sanctuary into a two-tiered space, limiting the area for co-celebrants and ceremony. The redesign creates more space in the sanctuary in several ways: the flattening of its floor, the relocation of the cathedra (the Bishop’s seat), moving and centering the altar so it is closer to the nave (where the congregation sits), and relocating the baptismal font and the choir to areas in the nave. This reconfiguration also allows for seating for 60 within the sanctuary itself.
- Integrated accessibility design: Several accessibility improvements are part of the redesign of the sanctuary. These include replacing the exposed sanctuary’s handicap ramp with a discreet lift, the creation of an accessible path from the sacristy (the room where vestments and sacred vessels are kept) to the sanctuary, and providing accessibility to the Our Lady’s Chapel adjacent to the sanctuary.
- Reconfigured nave: The reconfiguration of the nave, where the congregation gathers, maintains the Cathedral’s current seating capacity for 1,900 while creating better accessibility and more usable space. Solutions include reconfiguring the pew layout to integrate accessible seating into the main body of pews, rather than relegating wheel-chair-seated congregants to the back of the nave, while removing pews from areas to the right and left of the nave’s center to provide space for removable seating. The reconfiguration has also captured more room for the relocation of the choir from the sanctuary to the nave floor, both creating a more unified connection between choir and congregation, and freeing space within the sanctuary. Additional space has also been reclaimed from the nave’s side vestibules, offering new flexible entry areas.
- Design of new liturgical appointments: Working with Connecticut's Baker Liturgical Art, the team designed a new family of liturgical appointments and furnishings for the sanctuary and nave to replace the existing ones, all made of wood. The team took inspiration from the church’s interior details so that the design of the appointments, while new, would feel a timeless part of the larger whole. To further establish a feeling of permanence, some new appointments are of marble, not wood, and include a new altar, baptismal font, and ambo, the raised lectern used for reading the Gospel; reusing existing cathedra.
- Renovated interior finishes: New interior finishes, combining lightness and permanence, include white and light grey marble floors in the sanctuary and Our Lady’s Chapel, and a floor of grey quartzite with white inlay for the nave. Replacing the existing wood floors with stone throughout the sanctuary and nave introduced the feeling of timelessness and solidity that stone gives, while also reducing the maintenance needs of wood floors. The project included the fresh painting of the nave and sanctuary in white—its long-standing, primary interior color—and the potential reintroduction of earlier details in red and gold paint that had long been painted The analysis of historical photos helped the design team learn of these earlier paint details. The refinished walnut pews and the sanctuary’s refreshed cathedra ground the space with warmth and welcome.
- Integrated MEP, fire protection, and life safety systems: New building infrastructure includes integrating air conditioning into the main cathedral that it is quiet and invisible, and installing a fire safety sprinkler system.
- The right technology: Before installing the MEP system for the new air conditioning, the architects worked with engineers from WSP to develop a fluid dynamic model of the nave and sanctuary in order to assure that the acoustics and AC system’s design do not create unwanted breezes or cold or hot spots. The team tested the Cathedral’s lighting plan with a similar digital model.
- Integrated lighting: After stripping away all the existing lighting systems, the design team created new, discreetly placed lighting fixtures that avoid creating the distracting visual clutter of the existing miscellany of lighting. The all-LED lighting plan also anticipates future lighting requirements for broadcasts from the Cathedral.
- Backlighting of the stained-glass windows: Designers created a new system that backlight the Cathedral’s stained glass windows from within so that the church glows, lantern-like, in the evenings.
- Restored ceiling trusses: The ceiling’s elaborately carved wooden trusses were cleaned and sealed. Formerly, the trusses and details had an edge bead of maroon paint, which was replaced with metallic gold to emphasize detail in the existing trusses. Once the scaffolding platform was erected, designers were able to see existing stenciled murals on the wood, which may have received a coat of stain in previous renovation, causing them to look ghosted. The remaining traces of these stenciled murals were preserved. New lighting was added in the wood ceiling and existing lighting positions on the wood trusses and columns were replaced, providing uplight to the ceiling details. New recessed lighting was added to illuminate the liturgical appointments on the sanctuary platforms below.
By the Numbers
- Largest church in New England
- Cathedral dimensions: 364 feet long, 160 feet wide (at transept), 120 feet high
- Consecrated in 1875
- Square footage of the sanctuary: approximately 3,800 sf
- Square footage of the nave: approximately 18,800 sf
- Total square footage of the Cathedral: approximately 61,600 sf
- Total square footage of Elkus Manfredi’s renovation: approximately 35,000 sf
- The Cathedral houses the largest, and arguably finest, organ built by the world-renowned E. & G.G. Hook and Hastings Company in 1875. It is listed in the United States’ Organ Historical Society’s database.
Suffolk “Building Smart” at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross
The Cathedral of the Holy Cross renovation project has been a fascinating blend of old and new. During the planning phase of the historic building, Suffolk used sophisticated technologies as part of its “build smart” approach to capture critical data about the structure to ensure a seamless and predictable process and outcome. Suffolk laser-scanned the entire interior of the Cathedral to capture precise data that was incorporated into a comprehensive virtual design and construction (VDC) model. For example, the laser scan of the wood flooring provided the project team a better understanding of the various levels and heights of the floor so the new level stone floor could be installed quickly and efficiently with no mistakes or rework.
The Suffolk team also leveraged the laser scan data and virtual design and construction model to capture precise measurements of the spaces within the walls so that updated HVAC and mechanicals could be prefabricated and installed to fit perfectly within those walls without disrupting or damaging the existing building. Because of the team’s precise data captured through the scanning process, the HVAC and mechanicals were prefabricated offsite and simply assembled and fit together in the walls of the Cathedral—because the components were produced based on the hyper-accurate model, they fit perfectly together in the walls, so there was no need to demolish and reconstruct the Cathedral walls to seamlessly marry the new-age, efficient mechanicals with the historic building.
Suffolk used VDC models to rebuild the Cathedral of the Holy Cross structure on a computer screen before actually rebuilding it on the site. The laser-accurate model allowed the project team to collaborate more closely with the architects and trade partners, and more efficiently and effectively plan the reconstruction of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross to deliver a seamless, predictable reconstruction process.
|Client||The Archdiocese of Boston|
|Architect||Elkus Manfredi Architects|
|Construction Manager/Owner’s Project Manager||Suffolk|
|Liturgical Consultant||Baker Liturgical Art, LLC|
MacNamara Salvia, Structural Engineers
|Lighting Consultant||HDLC Architectural Lighting|
|Acoustics & Audio Visual||Acentech|
|Stained Glass Restorer||Lyn Hovey Studio, Inc.|
|Architectural Art Restoration||Ever Green Architectural Arts|
|MEP Contractors||PJ Kennedy & Sons|