Cincinnati’s Walk of the Seven Churches – A New Lenten Tradition

IMG_0662Two years ago, I was reading literature about Italy, savoring and absorbing, when I came across the Roman Lenten tradition of the Seven-Church Walk. The walk is held during Holy Week. The roots of the pilgrimage date back to the 1500’s, when first begun by the second apostle of Rome, St. Philip Neri. He and his companions would pack picnics, sing songs and pray along a route which took them past the four major basilicas and three minor churches of Rome.

St. Philip was the founder of the Oratory Movement, which promoted practical charity and the notion that the laity should be first order and the priests and brothers second. Pope Paul IV didn’t share these views and thus, disposed of the Seven-Church Walk. Upon his death, the walk resumed, and has been a part of Roman Lenten custom since.

There are other pilgrimage walks with different churches as stopping points, using various representations, but this particular one attracted me.

In the modern age, devotees in Rome attend a 7:00 a.m. Stational Mass at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, then a group sets out to visit the traditional seven basilicas, stopping for lunch on the way, and completing their journey around 6:00 p.m. that evening.

The traditional stops of the Seven-Church Walk were as follows: Santa Maria Maggiore, San Lorenzo fuori le Mura (“outside the walls”), Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, San Giovanni in Laterano, San Sebastiano fuori le Mura, San Paolo fuori le mura, San Pietro in Vaticano. There was some debate which churches were included, depending on who was undertaking the pilgrammage.

The entire journey covered 22.5 km, or 13.6 miles.

In my research, I discovered many cities including Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., have instituted a similar Walk of the Seven Churches.

So, I set out to find my own Walk of the Seven Churches in Cincinnati. I discovered, while the Catholic churches within walking distance were founded by varying orders, there were nonetheless, seven churches within the confines of the city that make the walk of seven churches possible.

I have noted directions and, disclaimer, historical data gleaned via the Internet that a visitor might enjoy while viewing the church. There is no guarantee the churches will be open, as many will be preparing for the High Holy days of Easter weekend.

The route covers 5.6 miles, through Over-the-Rhine, downtown and Mt. Adams, and should take approximately two hours. In ensuing years, I might endeavor to find other churches, to match the mileage of the Romans.

Walk of Seven Churches MapStarting Point.

Washington Park. Begin west and walk around Music Hall. Follow Ezzard Charles until you come upon St. Joseph’s church in the West End. 745 Ezzard Charles Drive.


St. Joseph’s West End

IMG_0637The entrance of St. Joseph’s School, bears the inscription is from the Bible passage Mark 10:14, which Webster’s Bible translates as “Suffer the little children to come to me.”

St. Joseph’s Parish was organized in 1846 and constructed a permanent church on the corner of Linn and Laurel Streets in 1848 for German immigrants in the West End. The German-American congregation appointed the church with elegantly carved oak pews, four bells for the tower, stained glass windows from Germany, a hand carved altar and Stations of the Cross and had William Lamprecht, a fellow German immigrant paint murals on the walls and ceiling. Since its peak membership of 800 families in 1895 the church’s congregation decreased somewhat and changed dramatically. By 1988, 99% of the church’s 400 members were African American, but much of the church’s German past is kept and honored by current members.IMG_0638

Bibliographical Sources:

The Bicentennial Guide to Greater Cincinnati: A Portrait of Two Hundred Years, by Geoffrey J. Giglierano, Deborah A. Overmeyer, with Frederic L. Propas, The Cincinnati Historical Society, 1988, page 113


From St. Joseph’s, turn east and head back towards Music Hall. Turn right, down Central, until 8th Street. There you will come upon St. Peter’s in Chains. 325 W. 8th Street.

St. Peter’s in Chains

IMG_0647Saint Peter in Chains Cathedral is the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati. It is a Greek revival structure located at 8th and Plum Streets in downtown Cincinnati.

The present cathedral of St. Peter in Chains is the third for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Saint Peter in Chains was begun with the laying of its cornerstone on 20 May 1841, under the direction of then-bishop (later archbishop) John Baptist Purcell, and formally dedicated on 2 November 1845. Built in 1845, this cathedral, which honors the imprisoned St. Peter, was extensively renovated and enlarged in 1957. Its striking single spire, which soars to two-hundred and twenty feet above street level, was the tallest man-made structure in the city for many decades, and is constructed of pure white limestone.

Bishop John Purcell of Cincinnati decided to build a cathedral in Greek Revival style. The architect copied details from several classical Greek buildings, including Horologium (the Tower of Winds) of Adronikos Cyrrhestes, and the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates at Athens.

The large stone angels that were on each side of the main altar were created by Odoardo Fantacchiotti in the late 1840s. They now grace the Cincinnati Art Museum’s Cincinnati wing. They were among the first European sculptures to come to Cincinnati.

IMG_0648Within the cathedral the sanctuary is dominated by a mosaic of Christ seated in Glory. With his hands raised in blessing, he gives the keys of authority to Peter. To the left, Peter is shown imprisoned in chains in Jerusalem; to the right, he is imprisoned at the Mamertine prison in Rome with Paul. In the center is a quotation from the Acts of the Apostles: “Peter was being kept in prison…bound with chains” (12:5,6). As a complete architectural unit, the mosaic is one of the largest in the United States.

To the left of the altar is the archbishop’s cathedra or chair, the sign of his teaching authority in the archdiocese. It is because the archbishop’s cathedral is here that the building gets its designation as cathedral.

Archbishop John Baptist Lamy was ordained a bishop here on November 24, 1850. He was immortalized in Willa Cather’s novel, “Death Comes for the Archbishop” and in Paul Horgan’s “Lamy of Santa Fe.”

St. John Neumann was a co-consecrator at the cathedral for his successor as bishop of Philadelphia. Bishop Neumann was canonized in 1977, and a figure of him hangs in the baptistery.

On September, 1976, then-Archbishop Joseph Bernardin welcomed Cardinal Karol Wojtyla to the Cathedral of St. Peter in Chains. Two years later, the cardinal became Pope John Paul II.

The interior of Saint Peter in Chains is distinctly unique among Roman Catholic cathedrals in America, with its Greek-themed mosaics depicting the Stations of the Cross, its ornate Corinthian columns and its massive bronze doors. The crucifix was made by Benvenuto Cellini, the murals by Carl Zimmerman and the mosaic in the apse is by Anton Wendling.


From Elm and 8th Street, continue west three blocks to St. Louis Church at 8th and Walnut. At 29 E. 8th Street.

IMG_0650St. Louis Church

The St. Louis Church was built in 1928 to replace an earlier structure built in 1847. It not only serves as a church, but once contained offices and residences for the archdiocese. From 1918 until 1980, the church held a 2:00 AM “Printers Mass” for downtown night-shift workers, particularly the printers who worked at the nearby Cincinnati Enquirer.

Over the side door of the church is an interesting Latin inscription: The phrase on the arch means “Show the good way, Lord, to those who pray in this place” and the phrase over the door means “Who seeks, finds.”  

On the way, you will walk past the newly renovated building housing Archives for the Archdiocese. You will also walk past a non-descript barn, where you might get a sneak peak of the parking spaces for the Archbishop and his staff.

IMG_0653On my last visit, several homeless men and women were sleeping in the pews of St. Louis, as a sign of its welcoming nature. St. Louis is one of my favorites because of its size. God finds me more readily in the smaller spaces and I, him.

* Note from Gail Finke of – St. Louis Church has a lower-floor chapel that is pretty much an entire separate church! See if you can see it when you visit.Also, Old St. Mary’s Church is home to Cincinnati’s Oratory of St. Philip Neri — he of the “seven churches walk” origin. It is the oldest church building in our entire region and is still used daily by a diverse group of parishioners — it celebrates Mass in English, Latin (new Mass), Latin (old or “extraordinary” form) and German!


From St. Louis, travel two blocks east, crossing Main and then turn right down Sycamore. In two blocks, the large structure of St. Xavier will become visible. 607 Sycamore Street.

IMG_0654St Francis Xavier Church

St. Francis Xavier Church is located at 607 Sycamore Street, Cincinnati, Ohio. This was the location of the first diocesan cathedral and the center of early Roman Catholic life in Cincinnati. It was dedicated to St. Peter on December 17, 1826. “Christ Church” (founded 1819), the city’s first Catholic church was located at Vine and Liberty streets. Its frame building was moved on wheels to Sycamore Street in 1826 to serve as the first seminary. Saint Francis Seraph Church now is on the former site, on land purchased from James Findlay.

St. Francis Xavier has existed as its own parish since 1845 when the cathedral was moved to Saint Peter In Chains Cathedral at Eight & Plum Streets. The parish has been under the direction of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) since 1840. The present brick edifice with stone facing and ornate clock tower was built in 1860.

The story of St. Xavier Parish begins in the year 1819 when the seven Catholic families in what is now the Cincinnati Metropolitan area built a church . . . Their first church was a small wooden building built at the corner of Liberty and Vine Streets, where the church of St. Francis Seraph now stands. . . . At the time, Cincinnati was a part of the diocese of Bardstown, Kentucky.

Two years later, in 1821, Cincinnati itself was made the seat of a diocese. Its first bishop was Edward Fenwick, a Dominican priest of the Priory of St. Rose, Kentucky. Bishop Fenwick made his home near what is now Lytle Park. Because of the difficulty of getting to the little church, now his cathedral, especially over the mud roads of winter, Bishop Fenwick purchased the Sycamore Street site and had the little cathedral put on rollers and moved . . .

Bishop Fenwick died in 1832 and was succeeded by Bishop John B. Purcell. Bishop Purcell bought additional property on Sycamore Street next to his cathedral and established a seminary and college there. Then, in 1840, he brought in the Jesuits to run the college and seminary. Meanwhile, he had begun to build a new cathedral at Eighth and Plum. When it was dedicated in 1845, the title of St. Peter-in-Chains was given to it. The church and college on Sycamore was placed under the patronage of St. Francis Xavier.

By 1856 the number of people attending St. Xavier Church was so great that a new building was planned. The building was begun in 1858 . . . In 1861, Bishop Purcell celebrated the first Mass in the great new church. . .

The current church building remained basically unchanged from 1883 until the directives of Vatican II called for a rearrangement of worship space. . . . The most striking change was the redecoration of the church. It had been all beige with no color except for panels of cherry red atop the arches of the nave, and a section of cherry red carpet in the sanctuary. The architect chose bold colors that enhance the architecture and that reflect the medieval custom of enlivening great churches with strong colors.


From here, there are several ways to reach the base of the steps of the Church of the Immaculata. This route will take you to the absolute base, near Mt. Adams Landing townhomes. South to 6th Street. Turn east to Broadway. Follow Broadway down to Pete Rose Way. Turn left onto Pete Rose Way, and continue past Purple People Bridge. Once past the SOTO hair solon, turn left onto Adams Crossing. The steps will be on your left-hand side. The first set will take you across the highway, the next flight up to Mt. Adams. Take a quick right, then left to continue towards the remainder of the steps. 30 Guido Street.

IMG_0661Church of Immaculata – Mount Adams

Perhaps the most well-known of these churches is the Church of the Immaculata. “The Church of the Steps.”

The church was built in 1859, just before the American Civil War, for the German congregation in the city’s Mt. Adams neighborhood. Archbishop John Baptist Purcell decided to build the church while praying during a severe storm at sea. He promised God that if he survived, he would build a church on the city’s highest point.[2]

IMG_0663The nearby Holy Cross parish primarily served Irish immigrants. When the Holy Cross monastery closed in 1977, the parishioners joined with Immaculata to become the Holy Cross–Immaculata parish. The Mt. Adams Preservation Association raised enough funds to commission the restoration of seven paintings by Johann Schmitt. The paintings were mounted over the main altar and side altars between 1863 and 1870. [1] A painted scroll stretches above the main altar across a depiction of the Immaculate Conception. In German, it reads: O Maria, ohne Suende empfangen, bitte fuer die Bekehrung dieses Landes, Amerika. (O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for the conversion of this country, America.)

On December 29, 1978, the Immaculate Conception Church, School, and Rectory was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.[1] The school and rectory have since been closed.

In August 2005, workmen began chipping out bricks and glass block where a rose window once stood. The original had been lost in a storm. The new window came from Saint Bonaventure Church, which was closed and torn down in 2003. Fr. Neiheisel and Holy Cross Immaculata pastoral assistant Bill Frantz salvaged a colorful, round, stained-glass rose window that had stood over the altar. Neiheisel then raised $44,000 to have the window reinforced, enlarged with an 18-inch ring of additional glass, and ultimately set into the Holy Cross-Immaculata wall behind a layer of strong, protective glass. [2]

The Immaculata Church has served since 1860 as a pilgrimage church, where on Good Friday the faithful ascend 85 steps[3] to the church’s front door from the neighborhood below while praying the Rosary. An additional 65 steps start at the base of Mt. Adams, with a pedestrian bridge over Columbia Parkway connecting the two paths.[3] The steps were originally made of wood, but in 1911, the City of Cincinnati helped the church build concrete steps.[2]

Each year in February members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians knock on the church door and ask permission to remove the statue of St. Patrick. The Priest invokes the intercession of St. Patrick. With bagpipes leading the way the six foot statue of St. Patrick leaves the church and starts his Mini Parade through Mt. Adams.

Leaving Mt. Adams offers many opportunities for views. This is the suggested way down. A GPS would be helpful to find Wareham, follow until Van Meter and steps that lead down and across to Court Street, to right on Eggleston. Turn left on Central Parkway, then right onto Main Street. Left onto 13th. 123 E. 13th St.


IMG_0673Old St Mary’s Church

This Roman Catholic parish was organized in 1840 by German immigrants. Designed in the Greek Revival style by Franz Ignatz Erd, it is the second-oldest German-Catholic parish in the city and the oldest standing church in Cincinnati. The church is 142 feet long, 66 feet wide and with a steeple 170 feet tall. When built, it was the largest in the Ohio Valley. The original church was dedicated on July 3, 1842.[1]

In 1840, German immigrants were arriving in Cincinnati at the rate of 200 per day. Many of the men donated their own labor to build the church, making the bricks by hand.[2] The numbers of German immigrants increased in mid-century. They built a strong community, with St. Mary’s at the heart of it. They also built a school and later a second school as the number of children increased.

In May through August 1849, 796 parishioners of St. Mary’s died in the cholera epidemic. There were 345 funerals in July alone. The “Old” was added in 1904 when St. Mary’s in Hyde Park (Cincinnati) was founded.[3][dead link] The parish, which today draws parishioners from some 50 different zip codes, practices the rich liturgical, musical and cultural heritage of the Roman Catholic tradition. The Church offers Masses in Latin, German and English every Sunday. The Latin Mass features a Gregorian chant choir.

The parish complex includes a rectory and building that once served the parish as a Catholic girls’ grammar school. At present St. John Social Services leases the building from the parish to house several of their outreach programs for the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.[citation needed] The three buildings of the parish complex were listed together on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.[1] Seven years later, they were among more than two thousand Over-the-Rhine buildings listed on the Register together as a historic district, the Over-the-Rhine Historic District.[4]

The parent parish was Holy Trinity Church (Heilige Dreieinigkeit) which was located at West Fifth Street and Barr Street/Mound Street, in Cincinnati’s Old West End. Organized in 1834, Holy Trinity was the first German parish and second Roman Catholic parish in Cincinnati. The Holy Trinity Parish was closed in 1958 because of changing demographics.[3]

It is reported that the men cleared the land for this church and the women and local bakers baked the bricks in their ovens.


Head east on 13th until Vine. Turn right on Vine Street and follow until Liberty Street. Cross Liberty Street, and St. Francis Seraph will be on your right hand side. 14 E. Liberty St.

IMG_0674St Francis Seraph

In 1844 it was clear to Bishop John Purcell that the City of Cincinnati was in need of more German speaking Catholic priests to properly serve immigrants flooding the city. As a result, he welcomed Franciscan monks from the St. Leopold province in Austria to the area, where they served German Catholics in Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky and Eastern Indiana until they were ordered home to Europe by Austrian authorities in 1857.

The monks, who desired to stay in Cincinnati, opened a High School seminary, which they dubbed St. Francis College, in order to support themselves; the first classes were held at the college in 1858. The present church, pictured here, was built on the site of a Catholic cemetery and completed in 1859. The remains were reinterred in a crypt below the church and the tombstones used to pave the floor.

Membership at St. Francis has dwindled since its peak of 900 at the turn of the century, but the friars continue with the traditions begun by St. Francis, living lives of poverty and reaching out to a community in need. They presently operate a soup kitchen every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and a large outreach program called the Sarah Center, which helps connect those in need with people and organizations able to help. The Sarah Center also runs a supplemental income program wherein participants learn jewelry making and sell their creations for profit.

St. Francis Seraph Roman Catholic Church in Over-the-Rhine. The Statue of St. Francis above the door was imported from Munich in the 1860s and cast in the same foundry as the Tyler Davidson fountain which stands in Fountain Square in downtown Cincinnati.

Bibliographical Sources:

The Bicentennial Guide to Greater Cincinnati: A Portrait of Two Hundred Years, by Geoffrey J. Giglierano, Deborah A. Overmeyer, with Frederic L. Propas, The Cincinnati Historical Society, 1988, page 97

Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine, by Kevin Grace and Tom White, Arcadia Publishing, 2003, page 46

Outreach Center, St. Francis Seraph Ministries, Accessed 15th November 2009


Ending Point

To complete your tour, I suggest a stop at Findlay Market, as the Romans would have concluded their walk with the bounty of the day.

From St. Francis Seraph, turn west on Liberty to Race Street. Turn right on Race Street and follow four blocks. You will be on the east side of the Market. Lunch options are a plenty: Pho Lang Thang, Cake Rack for sandwiches, Mimi’s Eggrolls, Mama Lo Hiso, Fresh Table and many more pick-snacks.

To return to Washington Park, follow Race south, cross Liberty, wave ‘Hi’ to me, and continue past 14th Street.

If you take this walk, let me know. Perhaps there is space in the future to make this official.


  1. What a fabulous idea!! I want to do this during Holy Week next year. I love your idea, and the historical details you provided. I noted that, wherever possible, you keep things in Italiano! Buon! You Italianos are magnifico!

  2. Also, Old St. Mary’s Church is home to Cincinnati’s Oratory of St. Philip Neri — he of the “seven churches walk” origin. It is the oldest church building in our entire region and is still used daily by a diverse group of parishioners — it celebrates Mass in English, Latin (new Mass), Latin (old or “extraordinary” form) and German!

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