Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

BarberMcMurry and its team designed The Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus for the Diocese of Knoxville and Sacred Heart parish to be a new sacred worship space that was both beautiful and timeless.

The cathedral’s design is rooted in history through its use of classical materials, proportions, and ecclesiastical relationships. An intense attention to detail characterized this project, from the Italian marble to the flooring pattern, and from the cathedral ceiling’s painted coffers to the size of the brick utilized on the exterior.

The dome of the cathedral is the most recognizable feature from the exterior of the building and the most arresting in the interior. Inspired by the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Italy, the dome is 147 feet high — taller than the Statue of Liberty from her heel to the top of her head. The artistic images adorning the interior of this space were handcrafted by decorative artists, hand-painted onto canvases that were later installed in place. The paintings depict 16 saints, the 12 apostles, Joseph, Mary the Blessed Mother, and Jesus Christ, who stands at 25 feet tall with an arm span of 17 feet. The dome is crowned by a cupola with oculus that allows a shaft of light to beam down into the cathedral.

 A refined color palette and precise detailing also characterizes the interior design, unifying the architecture and integrated artistic elements. A careful emphasis on light — both daylight and artificial — creates focal points throughout the cathedral, direction attention to the icons and art.  

In addition to its beauty, the design prioritizes sustainability and long-term maintenance and expense. An innovative ice storage system freezes water for use with the heating and cooling system during early morning or off-peak hours for use during the heat of the day, when demand is high. All lighting, even the traditional wrought-iron chandeliers, feature LED technology. The design team chose local and regional artisans for the handcrafted materials in the cathedral wherever possible.

A state-of-the-art acoustic design program “tuned” each seat in the facility so that spoken word, singing, instrumental music, and the grand organ can be heard throughout the sanctuary with the same extraordinary sound quality. The nave accommodates a portable stage riser system so that instrumental and choral concerts can be enjoyed in the space.

McCrery Architects was BMA's cathedral design consultant for this project.

"Simply put, the jury found the commitment to detail in the design of this cathedral staggering. It appeared that virtually every square inch of the design was carefully considered, researched, sketched and documented ... a labor of love."

— 2019 AIA East Tennessee Jury

Completion Date: 2018

Type: Addition/Renovation, New Construction

Location: Knoxville, Tennessee

Building Area: 22,611 SF New Construction + 7,521 SF Renovation

Services: Architecture, Interior Design

Use: Religious


  • 2019 Institute of Classical Architecture & Art Philip Trammell Shutze Award
  • 2019 AIA East Tennessee Divine Details Award
  • 2019 AIA East Tennessee Chapter Choice Award
  • 2018 NuHeights Design Awards
  • 2018 Engineering-News Record Southeast Best Project, Cultural/Worship

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