St. Mary's Cathedral, Galveston

By: Roberta Buescher Christensen

Type: General Entry

Published: July 1, 1995

Updated: June 17, 2015

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Pope Pius IX made St. Mary's Cathedral, the mother church of the Catholic Diocese of Galveston-Houston, the cathedral for the newly established Diocese of Galveston on May 4, 1847. At that time the diocese comprised the entire state. Jean Marie Odin, a Frenchman, was the first bishop. The original structure, including the central nave, side aisles, transept, and apse, was completed in 1848 and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. The architect for the Gothic Revival church was Theodore E. Giraud. The design, largely inspired by King's College Chapel in Cambridge, England, is in the traditional form of a Latin cross, with the entrance situated to the west and the sanctuary to the east. The structure is 130 feet long and 75 feet wide, with transepts 100 feet wide by 60 feet high. A gift of 500,000 bricks from Belgium was used in the construction. In 1876 Galveston architect Nicholas J. Clayton added a transept tower to the roof of the sanctuary. In 1878 a cast-iron statue of Mary, Star of the Sea, was added to the tower. Mariners formerly used the lighted crown of the statue as a beacon to guide them into the port of Galveston. In 1886 Clayton heightened the twin spires at the front of the cathedral to eighty feet and topped them with crosses. On the grounds outside the basilica is an obelisk topped with a cross commemorating the yellow fever victims of Galveston in 1853. The feeling of vast open space inside the church is achieved by a series of coupled wooden columns and an elaborate truss system of wooden purlins, struts, and braces. Inside the entrance on the south side is a huge crucifix, and on the opposite side is a large Pietá statue. The organ in the choir loft is equipped with 3,000 pipes fitted from wall to wall. On a dais in the sanctuary is the bishop's chair, in front of a tall, narrow panel decorated with the bishop's insignia. A round stained-glass window of the Sacred Heart of Jesus overlooks the crossing and the sanctuary. St. Mary's Cathedral was documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey in 1967 and in 1968 was named to the National Register of Historic Places. On August 2, 1979, Pope John Paul II made the cathedral a minor basilica, an honor bestowed on selected churches because of their antiquity or historical importance.

Historical Marker Files, Texas Historical Commission, Austin. Mary McDonough, St. Mary's Cathedral in Galveston with Special Reference to Her Educational Contributions (M.A. thesis, Sul Ross State College, 1946). Willard Robinson, "Houses of Worship in Nineteenth-Century Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 85 (January 1982).


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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Roberta Buescher Christensen, “St. Mary's Cathedral, Galveston,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 18, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

July 1, 1995
June 17, 2015