Cathedral of St. Paul, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Unable to travel abroad due to the pandemic restrictions, my husband and I are embarking on a summer of Travel Dates to the world class cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, just out our back door. If we were visitors to these cities, these are places that would be on our must-see list! We’d like to share them with you!
Our first Travel Date was to St. Paul where we began our tour at the Cathedral of St. Paul, high on the hill with a magnificent view overlooking downtown St. Paul. It was a beautiful, sunny Minnesota summer day.
The Cathedral of St. Paul is a Roman Catholic cathedral and the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis; its Co-Cathedral is the Basilica of St. Mary of Minneapolis.
The Cathedral of St. Paul is one of the most distinctive cathedrals in the United States. Sitting high on on Cathedral Hill, it features a stunning copper-clad dome. Dedicated to Paul the Apostle, also the namesake of the City of St. Paul, it was designated as the National Shrine of the Apostle Paul by the Vatican and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It is the 3rd largest Catholic Cathedral and the 6th largest church in the United States, seating 3,000 and covering an area of 43,560 feet.
P.C. Cher B 25 June 2021
We also took advantage of the post pandemic re-opening of the Minnesota Capitol, almost next door, as seen in this photo of the Cathedral from the Capitol Mall.
We capped off our Travel Date with a visit to the historic, quaint St. Paul Brewery, also close-by. Details on these sites can be found at other blog posts.
P.C. Cher B 25 June 2021
The Cathedral sits high on the edge of a bluff originally called St. Anthony Hill; today it is appropriately called Cathedral Hill. It dominates the Saint Paul skyline and is situated on the highest point in downtown Saint Paul, Minnesota.
An interesting bit of history lore alludes to the biblical context where the House of God looks down (symbolically and literally) on money changers (represented by downtown St. Paul) and the Roman Caesar (represented by the state capitol)!
Beaux-Arts and Neoclassical Architecture
Designed by renowned architect Emmanuel Louis Masquerary, it is built with gray, Rockville (MN) granite. Construction began in 1906 and it was opened in 1915, without interior decorations.
The cathedral is topped with a copper dome at its apex, 306′ from the ground. The dome was completely re-sheathed during the 2001-2003 renovation.
The main entry faces east with a relief sculpture reaching to the peak. In it, Christ sends His disciples out to preach to the world. It is flanked by statues of St. Peter and St. Paul, designed by Leon Hermant of Chicago and carved by John Barratti of St. Paul.
Its overall appearance looms majestically over the city, fitting for a cathedral. The photo at the right provides excellent scale and perspective – note the tiny person at the top of the stairs, just to the right side of the central door, next to the double pillars? That is me!
Marble, Metalwork, Stained Glass, & Paintings
The interior is filled with lots of color and pattern, in contrast to the stark simplicity of the exterior.
25+ varieties of marble, from 9 countries, are on display. Colors range from radiant red (Spain) to deep green (Greece) to black flecked with gold (Italy). It has 3 stained glass rose windows, elaborate metalwork and intricate paintings. The pews are rich carved wood.
P.C. Cher B 25 June 2021
Stained Glass Rose Windows
Three enormous stained glass rose windows brighten the sanctuary on the north, east and south walls. One portrays martyrs of North America and North Woods wildlife.
Two large frescoes by Mark Balma decorate the front sides of the altar. One shows Bishop Cretin arriving by canoe in 1851; the Chapel of St. Paul is in the background. The other portrays Archbishop Ireland ready to enter the cathedral, spring 1915, for the first mass.
The main dome and the high ceiling over the altar are highly decorated, setting off the Mankato (MN) travertine walls and columns.
The dome is 175′ high inside and 120′ diameter outside.
House of God
Inside the sanctuary, we experienced the quiet reverence of the House of God.
Chapels & Shrines
Filling the areas around the seats and altar, are statues, shrines, and chapels for private prayer. The area behind the altar is especially unique with its unusual feature – the Shrine of Nations – six chapels arranged in a semicircle. Installed 1926-1928, they commemorate ethnic groups that contributed labor and money to the Cathedral project. Specifically, they include: St. Anthony (patron saint of Italians), St. Boniface (patron saint of Germans), St. John the Baptist (patron saint of French Canadians), St. Patrick (patron saint of Irish), SS. Cyril & Methodius (patron saints of Slavics) and St. Therese (patron saint of missionaries) who represents other ethnic groups in general.
Shrine of Nations Chapels
The chapels behind the altar are each unique and lovely, displaying a central statue of a patron saint, two flanking stained glass windows, and kneeling benches for prayer. The marble from the country of the saint is displayed behind the statue and in a circular slab of in the floor. My favorite one is from Germany, a country not typically associated with beautiful marble!
Organ Pipes & Rose Windows
Organ pipes for the cathedral’s two Skinner organs dominate the area above the main entry. With their own special beauty, they face the altar and are easily missed unless you think to look up! They frame the east rose window.
Statues of Four Evangelists
Statues of the four evangelists – this is one is St. Mark – are larger-than-life and dominate each of the four corners of the main seating area.
Chapels to Mary & Joseph
Chapels honoring Mary and Joseph flank the main entrances of the cathedral. They are larger, more prominent and display very ornate, spectacular domes.
The Pieta in Rome
To see Michelangelo’s Pieta, I’d have to go to Rome, right?!
Yes. . . but. . . you can save a lot of time, money and headache for a wonderful facsimile right here in the USA! And if you are in the Midwest. . . it’s even closer! It is in St. Paul, Minnesota!
Michelangelo sculpted his marble masterpiece of the Virgin Mary holding the body of Jesus Christ after his death in 1500. It is in St. Peter’s Vatican City, Rome, Italy. How can I see it in Minnesota?
The Pieta in St. Paul, Minnesota
The back story of how the Cathedral of St. Paul acquired this sculpture is a story worth telling! Several marble casts of Michelangelo’s original marble sculpture were created and on world-wide tours in 2010. In February 2010, the U.S. tour began at the Cathedral of St. Paul where thousands, myself included, flocked to see it. I had seen the original at St. Peter’s while visiting Rome, but viewers are unable to get close to it, and then it is protected by bullet-proof glass, so can be a rather disappointing experience. This exact replica was just inches away from me! I was thrilled to see it close up and in person!
A special traveling exhibit to a local site was excitement enough – but it got better! Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, St. Paul Cathedral was able to keep the sculpture!
We can enjoy it today – close up (within inches!) – close by (no need to travel to Rome!) – and FREE (no admission, no parking fees for church lot)!
P.C. Cher B 25 June 2021
As a Michelangelo fan, without a doubt, The Pieta is my favorite thing in the whole cathedral! This marble cast replica of Michelangelo’s sculpture, like the original masterpiece, causes my heart to skip a beat every time I view it!
For more info on the Pieta, check out my Good Friday blog showcasing this sculpture.
There are always surprises in any place one visits and explores, especially if one is open and looking for them. I found three worthy of sharing!
Byzantine Mosaic Icon: Madonna & Child
The Byzantine Mosaic Icon of Madonna & Child in the chapel with the Pieta surprised me. It seemed out of place with the rest of the cathedral’s decor, although it did provide a nice balance of Mary with Jesus as a child at the beginning of His life and then in the Pieta sculpture as an adult at the end of His life. I was impressed with its detail and exquisite beauty.
The Bronze Screen & Treasures
The ornate bronze screen at the back of the altar was exquisite, and easily overlooked as just a partition to separate the altar from the chapels in the Shines to Nations. I peaked through this one to get an intimate view of the back of the treasures in the altar and sight of the east rose window.
Plaque for World’s First School Crossing
This surprise was on a plaque displayed on the lawn across the street from the Cathedral’s east entrance. It seemed so random! “Site of first school patrol crossing in the WORLD (emphasis mine!). February 17th, 1921. Originated by Sister Carmela Hancci. Principal, Cathedral School. Dedicated June 6th 1978 to all school patrol members in Minnesota since 1921″ I wonder how many people miss this little gem?
History of the Hill
What was on the hill before the Cathedral?
The Kittson Mansion
In 1875, Norman Kittson, St. Paul mayor and railroad baron, purchased this hill top land and built his Victorian mansion, one of the most opulent private home in the State of Minnesota at the time. Sadly, Kittson died only four years after it had been completed and historians state that his mansion became a “less than first-class” boarding house.
In 1904, agents acting on behalf of Archbishop John Ireland purchased the mansion for $52,000, tore it down, and made way for the Catholic Cathedral of Saint Paul that stands in its place today. Fortunately, some of the original features of the house, such as the stained-glass windows, elegant marble fireplaces and crystal chandeliers, were salvaged before its demolition and refitted at St. Paul’s Wright-Prendergast House.
History of the Cathedral
There have been four Roman Catholic cathedrals in St. Paul, the first being a small log chapel built in 1841. Elevated to the status of cathedral in 1851 with the arrival of Bishop Joseph Cretin. Two other buildings were built in 1851 and 1856, both in downtown St. Paul. Between 1850 and 1900 St. Paul grew from a village to a city of over 160,000. Many of the new citizens were Roman Catholic mostly of German and Irish origin. In 1904, Archbishop John Ireland, a potato-famine Irish immigrant and protege of Cretin, decided to build yet another cathedral. Ireland hired French architect Emmanuel Masqueray and together they conceived a building with grandeur rivaled only by Cass Gilbert’s Minnesota State Capitol, completed in 1905. The fourth and final one opened in 1915; no other building in the Twin Cities has approached it in ambition or magnificence.
P.C. Cher B 25 June 2021
- 239 Selby Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102
- 651-228-1766; Tour Coordinator: 651-357-1327
- Parking: 2 hour FREE parking in the cathedral lot across the street. Neighborhood parking is by permit only so don’t count on that as an option.
- Tours: Guided tours 1:00 pm Tuesday-Friday (except holy days and civil holidays) FREE but suggested $2/person donation is welcome at the Tour Desk. Self-guided tours at any time cathedral is open. Reminder: As the Cathedral is an active place of worship, daily tours are subject to availability and may be cancelled in deference to special liturgical events.
- Open hours are Sunday-Friday 7:00 am to 6:00 pm and Saturdays 7:30 am to 6:00 pm. Self-guided tours are welcome during availability (see above)
- For the wider community, as well as for its parishioners, the Cathedral provides opportunities to enhance our appreciation for the arts. There is nothing more majestic than hearing music in a grand cathedral such as this. A regular organ concert series showcasing the Cathedral’s two Skinner organs is hosted by the parish. The Minnesota Orchestra and Vocal Essence are some of the groups that present concerts at the Cathedral each year.
- Mass: For scheduled times of mass, I recommend checking the website. Even if you are not Roman Catholic, I encourage visitors to attend a mass to appreciate and experience what the cathedral was created for: worship to God. Too often I, as a studio and art history teacher, limit my appreciation of church architectural masterpieces to the art, ignoring the reason they were created: to glorify God.
Map of St. Paul Travel Date Sites
- Cathedral of St. Paul (center left)
- Rice Park, Landmark Center, Herbies on the Park (center)
- Minnesota State Capitol (upper left)
- Raspberry Island, Wabasha Bridge, City House Mississippi River (lower left)
- St. Paul City Hall & Ramsey County Courthouse (center)
- Swede Hollow, St. Paul Brewing (upper right, just a bit off the map)
- Self-guided tour by Cher B, 25 June 2021
- Photos credits to Cher B, Skip B, Cathedral website and Google Images
Michelangelo’s Pieta is featured in the Good Friday post for 2020