Cathedrals of California, A Virtual Pilgrimage

California’s Wandering Catholic Cathedra

The chair of Southern California’s Roman Catholic bishops has moved around quite a bit.

When the Diocese of Both Californias (which included present-day California, Baja California, Nevada and Utah) was established in 1840, the Holy See directed that Mission San Diego de Alcalá be designated the cathedral. Upon arriving at his diocesan seat, however, California’s first bishop, Francisco García Diego y Moreno, was less than impressed with San Diego. He promptly moved to Santa Barbara and established Mission Santa Barbara as his pro-cathedral.

Mission San Diego

Mission San Diego in disrepair

In 1849, the area of the diocese was reduced and named the Diocese of Monterey. The Royal Presidio Chapel in Monterey became the pro-cathedral in 1851 until 1855, when the new bishop of the Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles, Thaddeus Amat, once again moved the cathedra to Mission Santa Barbara. But he realized the growing prominence of Los Angeles. He had his eye on the city’s premier church, the Plaza Church of Our Lady of the Angels, built on the site of the city’s 1781 founding.

Mission Santa Barbara

Mission Santa Barbara

(Amat was himself something of a wanderer, and no ecclesiastical careerist. A Vincentian, he was born in Barcelona, ordained a priest in Paris in 1837 and was assigned to teach at a seminary in New Orleans. Eventually he wound up rector of the diocesan seminary of Philadelphia, where he served as theologian to St. John Neumann, bishop of Philadelphia, at the Council of Baltimore. When he heard through the grapevine that he was to be named bishop of Monterey, Amat tried to avoid receiving the official notice. He fled to Madrid, then to Paris, and was planning passage to Chile when the dreaded official notice finally caught up with him. He tried to refuse the assignment, but the Holy See would not accept his refusal.)

Church of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles

The Plaza Church of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles (La Placita)

In 1859, Amat’s request to transfer the cathedra to La Placita was approved, and the Plaza Church remained the pro-cathedral of the Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles until the dedication of St. Vibiana Cathedral in 1876.

Additional biretta tips to Msgr. Francis Weber, archdiocesan archivist, for his book Century of Fulfillment: The Roman Catholic Church in Southern California 1840-1947.

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