Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis, Minnesota
On our Travel Dates to Top Tourist places in our back yard, we have visited three local major Christian architectural masterpieces: St Paul’s Cathedral (St. Paul), St. John’s Abbey and Church (Collegeville), and St. Mary’s Basilica (Minneapolis). Each one is uniquely different – and equally grand!
One of the highlights of my study of both art history and church history, is the grandeur of religious architecture, especially that of Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. And it is exciting that we don’t need to travel to Europe to visit and experience these wonderful examples!
Basilica of Saint Mary
What is a “basilica”?
There are two definitions: architectural and ecclesiastical.
Architecturally, a basilica is a building type – a rectangular building with a semi-circular apse on one or both ends. Originating in Rome, it was a court of justice and place of public assembly. For early Christians, it was a church building consisting of nave and aisles with clerestory and a large high transept from which an apse projects. (Miriam-Webster)
Ecclesiastically, a basilica is much, much more. Simply, it is a title granted by the Vatican that permits special ceremonial precedence, but it goes much deeper with further distinctions of various types of basilicas too vast for discussion here.
First Basilica in the United States
St. Mary’s was named the first basilica in the United States by Pope Pius XI in 1926.
The church was the vision of Archbishop John Ireland and French architect, Emmanuel Masqueray.
Ireland, educated in France, loved all things French. After meeting Masqueray, chief architect of the 1904 World’s Fair, Ireland hired him to design cathedrals for his archdiocese: one in St. Paul (details in an earlier Travel Date and blog on Cathedral of St. Paul) – and one in Minneapolis: St. Mary’s.
Groundbreaking was in 1907 and the first Mass was held seven years later.
A focal point are the three rose windows, each 15′ across in the central section, surrounded by 24 circular lights, 16″ across. They depict the immaculate conception, Madonna and Child, and the coronation of Mary in heaven.
The photo on the left shows a scale on the size of the church; I am the tiny person in black in front of the column to the left of center!
St. Mary’s distinctive copper dome can be seen for miles as one approaches downtown Minneapolis from the north on I-94 and west I-394.
The Basilica – A Backdrop for Sculpture Garden
Backdrop for the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
I found it interesting that, while the Basilica is not officially a part of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, in many ways it is an integral part of the aesthetics of the garden.
The Basilica, as a 3-dimensional work of great art, literally serves as a magnificent backdrop to some of its iconic works of art such as “Spoonbridge & Cherry” and “Cock/Hahn.”
Read more on this world-renowned sculpture garden – in our backyard – on my blog from a Travel Date 30 June 2021.
The Basilica – The Worship Space
Stepping into the worship space of The Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis, Minnesota, was like stepping into the pages of my art history text on classic Romanesque and Gothic architecture, common across Europe. The nice thing is that it is right in my home town, not half way across the world!
The layout of the nave with it rows of side columns, choir stalls, side chapels, and the Baldachino (canopy) which sets atop the altar, all command attention and respect.
The mosaics, stained glass, and rose windows add to the sense of awe and feeling of stepping into another time and place.
The Basilica Coat of Arms – seen in the photo on the right and along the center aisle of the nave – displays the Basilica (pavilion at the top in gold/scarlet) which was also present at the altar, left side. The moon is for St. Mary (Immaculate Conception). The crenelated walls indicate that it is “the City” and the wavy lines represent “of Waters.” Hence: Basilica for St. Mary in the City of Waters. Cool!
The Basilica – Host to a Very Special Exhibit
“This powerful sculpture depicts migrants and refugees from all cultural and racial backgrounds and from all historic periods of time together—shoulder to shoulder on a raft or boat. A Protestant man escaping the Counter-Reformation joins a Jewish man fleeing Nazi Germany. An African family forced into slavery joins a displaced Native American.” (mary.org)
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for some have entertained angels unawares.” Hebrews 13:2
This moving, life-size bronze sculpture is by Canadian artist, Timothy Schmalz. It was commissioned by Pope Francis and installed in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican in September 2019, to commemorate the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. The 3.5 ton, 20 foot-long sculpture depicts more than 140 life-size refugees from a variety of times and places.
The national tour includes this exhibition in Minneapolis at St. Mary’s which runs through August 30, 2021. In the fall of 2021, it will be permanently installed on the campus of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. to whom it was gifted.
As the descendant of immigrants from Sweden in 1888, I was moved by the figures in this sculpture.
- Worship Space: “While all visitors are welcome; it is important to remember that this beautiful and historic space is a place of worship. We ask that you be mindful of those who have come to pray and meditate.” (mary.org)
- Address: 1600 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55403
- Website: mary.org
- Phone: 612-333-1381
- Tours: Self-guided tours, brochure available at main entrance. Guided tours available by appointment, contact church. No fee but free will donation is welcome. As a place of worship, tour availability is determined by regularly scheduled services and events.
- Parking: Limited street parking to the west of the church on 17th North Street, lot directly behind the church, lot west under I-94.
- Church Hours: M-F: 6:30 am to 5:00 pm; Sa 8:00 am to 6:30 pm; Sun 6:30 am to 7:30 pm.
- Admission: FREE.
“The artist likens the sculpture to an updated version of the Statue of Liberty with figures based on historical events. A mentality of scarcity and scapegoating has been at the heart of fears about “illegal immigration,” which Angels Unawares seeks to overturn. Angel wings rise from the center of the vessel, a nod not only to the divine stranger in scripture but also the sacred in each of us – our shared humanity.” (mary.org)