The Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle honors the patron saint of civil servants and plays a major role in the Catholic life of the nation's capital. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Washington. Pope John II celebrated Mass here on October 6, 1979. President John F. Kennedy's funeral Mass was said here on November 25, 1963. Requiems have been held here for several heads of state. The "Red Mass," celebrated annually in October, requests guidance from the Holy Spirit for the conduct of the legal profession. It is attended by Supreme Court justices and members of Congress, the Cabinet, diplomatic corps, and other government departments, sometimes including the President of the United States.
Established in 1840, St. Matthew's originally was located at 15th and H Streets, N.W. Construction of the present church began in 1893 under the direction of Monsignor Thomas Sim Lee. The first Mass was celebrated on June 2, 1895. The church was dedicated in 1913 and designated a cathedral in 1939 when the Archdiocese of Washington was established. St. Matthew's Cathedral is currently undergoing a complete interior and exterior restoration, which is scheduled to be finished in September, 2003.
The Cathedral is one of the most impressive houses of worship in the United States. Designed by noted New York architect C. Grant La Farge, the Cathedral has been cited "as [having] one of the most beautiful church interiors of modern times." Its walls are laden with shimmering mosaics suggestive of those found in the renowned churches of Ravenna, Italy. The Cathedral is in the form of a Latin cross 155 feet long and 136 feet wide at the transepts. The interior of the dome rises 190 feet. The body of the Cathedral seats 854 persons; including chapels, it seats 1,254.