An Inside Look of Newark’s Historic Cathedral

A Guided Tour from David Weachock

The Newark Cathedral Towers are visible over the hill in Newark. The towers look over the city. They are visible in the distance. The tour guide, David Weachock says, “I can usually tell when someone’s here for the first time. What you do is you stop and you look around.” Weachock has been with the Newark Cathedral for 15 years. November 1, 2015 marks Weachock’s first full year of being a tour guide.

[pictured: David Weachock]
Weachock says “It was a calling, I saw John Paul II on television. I said that I wanted to come here. Then my cousin got married here. Then I came back, and they were short ushers, so I helped out. I returned to my church, but I felt the need to come back. I came back, and they asked me to help out again. They kept calling and I kept on coming back to help. They took my name down and everything. I then made this my Parish church.”

Weachock started slowly getting involved in the Cathedral. He helped with concerts and tour guides.

His love for the Cathedral radiates off him as he begins the tour. “Please sit down in the back of the church so you can hear a brief history of the Cathedral,” Weachock says.

Weachock fixes his head set and glances around the room. “Do you know what makes a Church a Cathedral?” Weachock pauses, waiting for an answer “The chair, the bishop’s chair makes it a cathedral. Not how big the Church is.”

The Newark Cathedral project started in 1859. The idea was proposed by Bishop Bayley, and he made his idea come to life when he bought land on the corner of High and Kinney Streets on January 17, 1859. Father Doane and Mr. O’Rourke, were the Cathedral’s first architects. They traveled to Germany, France and England when Bishop Bayley wanted them to get ideas for Newark’s Diocesan Church. They studied many cathedrals and in London Mr. O’Rourke met with George Goldie, who was one of the leading advocates of the neo-gothic revival. The men met several times, in the end they had a sketch for the plans of the church. The plans were much smaller than the Cathedral today.

Weachock adjusts his pink and purple tie against his pink shirt. A smile on his face, Weachock walks towards the front of the church. A smile spread across his face, which also was visible through his eyes.

“The physical dimensions of the Cathedral are stayed the same since it was built. The length is three hundred sixty-five feet and the center of each column is fifty feet,” Weachock points up to the ceiling.

There isn’t a known record of the O’Rourke and Goldie plan, but in 1987 O’Rourke abandoned the original plan, for a different one. Bishop Bayley was promoted to the See of Baltimore in 1872, and the Cathedral project was passed onto to Michael Augustine Corrigan. Corrigan authorized fixing of the site under Mr. O’Rourke’s direction in 1875 and 1876.

In 1881, Newark got it’s third Bishop, Winand Michael Wigger, and the project really got started. The Newark Cathedral committee had many fund raisers and Bishop Wigger had many architects submit sketches and proposals for the Cathedral. The Committee, gave the contract to O’Rourke. The church was made in the English-Irish Gothic style.

Looking up at the ceiling, Weachock says “The Gothic Cathedrals came to us 1,000 years ago. The designs are the pointed arches. They wanted to build the Cathedrals upwards as high as they can to heaven. The only way to do that is with the pointed arches. The pointed arches are in every cathedral whether it’s French Gothic, or English Irish Gothic, that’s the only way to support the weight.”

After January 1898, construction of the foundations, piers and basement wall began. Because the progress was so quick Bishop Wigger set June 11, 1899, as the date for the cornerstone to be put in. Bishop Wigger died on January 5 1901, and didn’t live to see the stage completed.

Starting in 1902, O’Rourke and Waldon, were feuding which led to O’Rourke’s removal as chief architect in 1910. By 1908 the O’Rourke-Waldron feud had grown so much that work came to a quick halt. Mr. Ditmars immediately assumed control of the project and wanted the Cathedral to have a French Gothic look. His revised plans were accepted in June, 1913, and work began in August that same year.

Construction moved quickly and by 1918 a lot of the Church was completed. In July of 1924, the glass was installed in the windows. Which helped protect the Cathedral from weather.

Weachock points upward, “Now the ribbed vault ceiling, that’s channeling all the weight into the pillars. That design enabled us to use the stain glass windows. The only way you can have the stain glass windows is through the design if you didn’t the walls would have to be 10 feet thick and forget about the window they couldn’t sustain the weight. Unless it was a port hole window like in the ships. If you turn the ceiling upside down it’s the keel of a boat and we’re all taught to be fishers of men. It’s amazing how the two are linked together I think it was God’s message to us. We’re all taught to bring people to church. And as we go out and spread the gospel and be nice to people.”

In 1926 there were more delays because of a dispute over what type of limestone should be used. Thomas Joseph Walsh, who was the new Bishop from 1928, thought it was time to use the Cathedral even though it was unfinished for public worship. By October 1954, Bishop Bayley’s dream became a reality.

“I have a true story on how this Church became a Basilica. On October 4, 1995, Pope John Paul II, made this a basilica. Just his word made it a basilica.” Weachock eyes widen, “ he was on his way to this church with the bishop at the time. The bishop then asked him and he said yes.
They were going into Lincoln tunnel and it was a cathedral. But when they came out at the other end it was a basilica.” Weachock laughs.
In 1974 the Newark Cathedral Church was designated an historic landmark by the New Jersey Historical Society. In December 1976, the church became a National Historic Site. The Cathedral had some maintenance work done to the exterior. Outside lights have been installed so the Cathedral could be seen from all points of the city.

Weachock starts walking towards the Pulpit. “On the canopy ceiling, you will see a dove which represents the Holy Spirit. The sixteen statues around the pulpit are doctors and teachers of the Church, whose preaching, writing, and teaching help faith.”

[pictured: Entering The ambulatory]
Weachock began walking to the ambulatory. “ There are different chapels located here, people from different ethnic backgrounds can come here and pray.”

The first chapel is for English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh, there is Saint Patrick. Each window has saints, Brigid, Thomas More, Margaret of Scotland, David of Wales, and Columkille of Ireland.

The second chapel is Saint Lucy Filippini . This chapel is for the Italian and Portuguese people.

Saint Lucy Filippini founded a congregation of teaching sisters active in the Archdiocese. Windows show Saints. Rocco, Frances X. Cabrini Januarius, Lucy Filipini, and Anthony of Padua. The third chapel is the Lady of Grace. That’s the blessed mother. The chandlers are made of crystal. This chapter holds the Blessed Sacrament and the Body and Blood of Christ. It also is the local parish community for daily Mass. The next chapel is the Chapel of St. Boniface for the Germans. He was a missionary who introduced Christianity to the Germanic people in the eighth century. The next chapel is for the Polish and the Slovakians. The chapels name is Slav-Magyar Chapel of St. Stanislaus. The next chapel is dedicated to the Africans, Asians, and the Hispanics. It is the Chapel of Saint Anne. Saint Anne, is the mother of Mary and grandmother of Jesus. The last chapel is Saint Joseph, who is the father of Jesus, husband of Mary. The statue is holding baby Jesus. The statue is inscribed saying “Saint Joseph, Guardian of the Child Jesus who is God.”

Sandra Chaves grew up in Newark and came back for a visit. “I felt like I needed to come back, I haven’t been here in years. It’s still such a beautiful Cathedral. I learn something new every time I come here. Visiting here is always so peaceful and informative.”

“Now opposite of the Lady Chapel is an altar dedicated to Saint Luke.” It has hand made carvings of saints that help with healing.

“Saint Benedict for poisoning. Saint Laurence is for burns. Saint Clair and Albert the Great he’s for scientists.” Weachock pauses and gestures towards the altar,” You can probably see the inscription of their names on the statue. Saint Valentine is for plagues. Saint Clamant that is for care of sick children. Saint Agatha is for breast cancer. Saint Peregrine is for cancer, Saint Glacé is for throat ailments. Saint George is for skin disease and Saint Dymphna is for mental illness.

Weachock has many interesting facts to tell. “The gargoyles that are sticking out outside, are from French Gothic cathedrals. In France they’re used as water spouts to draw water away from the foundation. Here they’re decorative. Another meaning they remind us of the parallels of evil. If we choose to sin we can find ourselves on the outside looking in with a frowny face like the gargoyles.”

Weachock’s knowledge about the Cathedral shines through his words. “Every time you come here, it’s like I didn’t see that last time, I didn’t see this last time.” With every visit there’s something new to learn and something to see.

Montclair State | New Jersey

Melissa Rivera

Senior at MSU. Journalism Major. Freelance writer for NJ 101.5.