Since its original printing in 1952, the publication of the Handbook of Texas has been made possible through the support of its users. As an independent nonprofit, TSHA relies on your contributions to close the funding gap for the online Handbook and keep it a freely accessible resource for users worldwide. Please make a donation today to preserve the most comprehensive encyclopedic resource on Texas history. Donate Today »


Roberta Buescher Christensen

ST. MARY'S CATHEDRAL, GALVESTON. 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 Piet√° 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).

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to:

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


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

Handbook of Texas Online, Roberta Buescher Christensen, "ST. MARY'S CATHEDRAL, GALVESTON," accessed August 19, 2019,

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on June 23, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Get this week's most popular Handbook of Texas articles delivered straight to your inbox