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The Cathedral of the Madeleine

A Quiet Place With a Big Presence

Kris Millgate | Photos by Kevin Kiernan Jan 11, 2018

Downtown Salt Lake City hosts many religious relics, but none taller than The Cathedral of the Madeleine. Legend has it that the cathedral’s tower was purposely built two inches higher than the Salt Lake LDS Temple’s Angel Moroni when constructed more than a century ago.

“If you were a Catholic builder back in the day, you would want that,” says Father Martin Diaz, The Cathedral of the Madeleine pastor. “In the beginning, we needed to distinguish ourselves from the Mormon Church.”

Now both religions hold solid ground in the Beehive State, and towering feats are no longer debated. Instead, Catholics and Mormons cooperate for the betterment of the community. And the cathedral in all its grand Gothic glory welcomes all.

“The cathedral at any one time can be half full of visitors,” Fr. Diaz says. “We are welcoming people from all over the world, Catholic and non-Catholic.”

Elderly priest standing inside cathedral
Father Martin Diaz
Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City
Cathedral of the Madeleine

A Place of History

Part of the cathedral’s public draw is the design. The cathedral is a remarkable structure built on the backs and banks of miners in 1909. Its original interior décor of green walls with white pillars received a blast of many colors in 1918. Those colors still remain today, as do the Native American markings on the pillars.

“The bishop at that time considered that part of our heritage,” Fr. Diaz says. “This is not just another cathedral in Pennsylvania or Indiana. This is uniquely Utah.”

Preserving the building’s uniqueness comes with angst and expense as the architecture ages. Fortunately, old paint cans in the basement helped with color matching during renovations in 1993. But when a chandelier’s light bulb lamp cracked recently, it took a custom glass blower and $2,300 to replicate one lamp for one bulb.

“Preserving the beauty of the building is complicated,” Fr. Diaz says. “It’s not like we can go to Lowe’s to buy a lamp.”

A Place of Welcome

The restored grandeur of such a historic place naturally attracts attention. Parishioners are used to unfamiliar faces in their pews and welcome them. Visitors from around the world attend mass, especially around Christmas and Easter. Music and arts performances are a big draw, too.

“It could get tiresome always having guests, but I think our parishioners know that being in this parish means you reach over and welcome someone who can’t find their place,” Fr. Diaz says. 

A Place of Welfare

Along with welcoming comes giving. The Cathedral of the Madeleine has a significant presence in Salt Lake City, and its congregation works with surrounding religions to help the needy. These efforts include the distribution of 9,000 sack lunches monthly.

“There’s cooperation among all the churches here in Salt Lake City on those kinds of things,” Fr. Diaz says. “We’re not teaching religion classes together, but we’re working together for people in the community who are in need.”

And those in need are always welcome in this sacred place that is rich in history and beauty. “Because The Cathedral of the Madeleine is so prominent, people tend to know it,” Fr. Diaz says. “It’s absolutely beautiful. It takes your breath away.”    

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