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Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Buckingham to undergo $15M renovation project

There is a brick, mid-century Catholic church that overlooks Arlington Blvd from a hill, adorned with three stained glass arches and a white cross.

Built to serve a parish, it was repurposed in the mid-1970s and christened the Cathedral of St. Thomas More. Its exterior today belies the building’s significance as the “mother church” for nearly a half-million Catholics across Northern Virginia and the seat of their bishop, Michael Burbidge.

The Arlington diocese says now, in honor of its 50th anniversary, is the time to make the church in the Buckingham neighborhood — which also operates a school — look the part.

In April, work began on a year-long project to transfigure the building, updating the interior and exterior and installing new stained glass windows and liturgical furnishings.

“When the Diocese of Arlington was established in 1974, there was no pre-existing cathedral to serve the needs of the newly-formed diocese,” Billy Atwell, the chief communications officer for the diocese, said. “As such, a parish church was chosen and retrofitted as best as possible to meet those needs.”

“As we approach our 50th anniversary in 2024, it is an appropriate time to undertake this project to help the Cathedral of St. Thomas More better reflect its dignity as the mother church of the more than 433,000 registered Catholics in the Diocese of Arlington,” he continued.

The new church at 3901 Cathedral Lane will have a Tudor-style façade that will be a nod to the church’s patron saint, St. Thomas More, who lived at the turn of the 16th century in England.

A permit filed with Arlington County indicates the project is estimated to cost $15.3 million.

It is completely paid for by donors “who agreed to give beyond their current contributions to their parishes, the Diocese and Catholic charitable efforts,” Atwell said.

“Bishop Burbidge had three essential principles for funding the cathedral renovation project which have all been achieved: that no debt would be incurred, no assessments would be taken from any parish and that there would be no capital campaign for this project,” he said.

After going through county approval processes in late July 2022, and receiving a permit in late October, demolition work began in mid-April. The project is set to wrap up next summer.

The church will get the following upgrades, according to permits filed with Arlington County:

  • new stained glass windows
  • two twin belfries at the south façade
  • a Tudor-style exterior
  • a new cupola, or small dome
  • new roofing
  • a renovated raised sanctuary platform with a ramp for greater accessibility
  • new liturgical furnishings, such as a cathedra or bishop’s seat
  • a renovated shrine
  • a refurbished choir loft

The project was designed by Arlington-based sacred architecture firm O’Brien and Keane Architecture.

From N. Glebe Road, travelers will be able to see a rose-patterned stained glass window. Imbued with scripture references, the diocese hopes the window inspires passers-by “to seek its deeper meaning in their lives,” according to the diocesan newspaper, The Arlington Catholic Herald.

Inside, there will be stained glass images of the saints for whom churches throughout the diocese are named, as well as devotional shrines to saints from the numerous cultures and communities represented in the diocese, the Catholic Herald said.

“Behind each statue will be stained-glass windows that tell the story of that saint’s life,” Atwell wrote in the article. “The cathedral will exemplify both the oneness and the diversity of the diocese — that our one body has indeed many parts.”

Following the cathedral renovation, also in honor of its 50th anniversary the diocese will conduct a capital campaign for charitable works, Atwell told ARLnow.

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