Art & Architecture

The Cathedral of Saint Paul has been in existence, in various buildings, since 1841. But it was Archbishop John Ireland, the renowned shepherd of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul, who helped bring to life the vision of a permanent mother church for Minnesota in 1904. In 1905, Emmanuel Louis Masqueray, a French architect trained at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, was selected to design what we know today as the fourth Cathedral of Saint Paul. Masqueray's devotion to the Catholic faith and his warm, personal relationship with Archbishop Ireland made him uniquely suited to the task. Ireland and his building committee wanted to create a structure that would stand for centuries. The new Cathedral needed to be "a modern building, perfect in its acoustics, in its sanitary, ventilating, heating and other details," according to a peer of Masqueray. Thus was the task of Masqueray and the many designers, craftsman, laborers, clergy and laypeople who worked on this structure.

Building and Architectural Facts

  • Exterior walls are Saint Cloud granite
  • Interior walls are American Travertine from Mankato, Minnesota
  • Height: 306.5 ft. Length: 307 ft. Width: 216 ft.
  • Seating capacity: 3,000
  • The seven bronze grilles surrounding the altar depict the human response to God's grace. Since the Cathedral is dedicated to Saint Paul, special recognition is given to him in the bronze masterpieces.
  • The chair in the sanctuary (the cathedra) denotes the Cathedral as the Archbishop's church.
  • The Shrine of the Nations surrounding the sanctuary represents the national patron saints of the people who settled this city and state.
  • The main walls of the Chapels are finished in Italian Botticino marble.
  • The Ernest Skinner organ was installed in the sanctuary in 1927 and the Aeolian-Skinner organ in the choir loft in 1963.
  • The east-facing window is the Resurrection window. The south rose window takes its theme from the Beatitudes and the north rose window depicts the eight North American Martyrs. These windows are the work of renowned stained glass artist Charles Connick.

The Exterior

The Cathedral of Saint Paul is set dramatically on Summit Hill overlooking the city of Saint Paul. The Cathedral's Beaux Arts architecture, inspired by the churches and cathedrals of France, is characterized by rounded domes and arches, a symmetrical cross floor plan and clean, straight lines. Decorative elements are grouped at certain points around the Cathedral–the façade, towers, sides, entrances and dome. The Cathedral's most prominent feature is a 120-foot-wide dome made of curved steel beams, covered with a clay tile surface and overlaid with copper. A copper-clad lantern, approximately 30 feet tall, sits on top of the dome. From the base to the very top of the lantern, the Cathedral stands 306 feet tall. The church body is made of granite stone from St. Cloud, Minnesota, in the shape of a Greek cross with nearly equal length arms. Twin 150-foot towers flank the main façade. The three front entrances rest under a monumental arch, which also frames a large rose window.

The Interior

Masqueray envisioned a Cathedral where all visitors would be able to see and hear the Mass, so he designed an interior with unobstructed views of the altar and pulpit. Twenty four large windows in the dome and rose windows in the transepts flood the interior with natural light. Electric lighting, installed in the late 1940s, enhances the Cathedral's interior. Masqueray completed only a few interior designs before he died suddenly in 1917. Consequently, the archbishops and designers who succeeded Ireland and Masqueray assumed the responsibility of transforming the Cathedral's stark, whitewashed interior into a decorative masterpiece.

The Sanctuary

The sanctuary, where the altar is located, is the focal point of the interior. Masqueray created a rough sketch of a main altar, but died before construction began. His friend Whitney Warren, best known for his design of Grand Central Station in New York, was commissioned to create the grand high altar. The marble altar is surrounded by an ornamental structure called a baldachin. At its base are six monolithic columns of black and gold marble, each 24-feet high and weighing almost eight tons. A bronze latticework canopy, which includes two angels and a sculpture of Saint Paul, rests on the pillars. Ornamentation on the dome above the main altar was completed in May 1927. At the highest point is a painting of the Holy Spirit. Beneath this image are paintings of the Holy Spirit's Seven Gifts: knowledge, counsel, understanding, piety, wisdom, fear of the Lord, and fortitude. The dome's seven stained glass windows each represent a sacrament: Baptism, Reconciliation, Eucharist, Confirmation, Matrimony, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick. Surrounding the sanctuary are massive bronze grilles, with depictions of the life and ministry of Saint Paul on the top, as well as of various angels and saints on the main sections.

The Shrine and Chapels

Behind the sanctuary is the Shrine of the Nations. The six shrines honor the national patron saints of many of the immigrants who settled Minnesota: Saint Anthony of Padua (Italy), John the Baptist (French Canadians), Saint Patrick (Ireland), Saint Boniface (Germany), Saints Cyril and Methodius (Slavic Nations), and Saint Therese (protector of all missions). Each shrine holds a statue of the patron saint, an altar, stained glass windows depicting other saints of the same country, and marble imported from the respective country. Immigrants represented by the particular saint funded each shrine. Four ornate side chapels, constructed between 1914 and 1933, honor Saint Peter, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Saint Joseph, and the Blessed Virgin Mary. The First World War interrupted construction of The Chapel of Saint Joseph, but it was completed in 1918 with the aid of the Sisters of Saint Joseph and their benefactors. The Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary received financial support from Catholic women in the Archdiocese. This chapel, completed in 1919, features a statue of a young Blessed Mother holding the Child Jesus. The sculptor, Leon Hermant, considered this piece his masterpiece. The Chapel of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was built during the Great Depression and was established as a devotion to a compassionate Jesus who understood the struggles faced by his people. This was the side altar sponsored and built by the workers themselves, and features an unusual and beautiful reddish marble altar.

The Interior Dome

[img_assist|nid=236|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=201|height=151]The interior dome of the Cathedral, 96 feet in diameter and 175 feet high, is just as impressive as the exterior, copper-clad dome. Warm-colored paint and gold leaf were added during a major dome renovation in the 1950s. The 24 stained glass windows of the angelic choirs, combined with the eight-pointed chandelier, bathe the church in light. Four massive piers support the dome. At the top of each pier is a 25-foot-high mosaic, each with an angel representing one of the four cardinal virtues: Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude, and Justice. At the base of each pier is a 12-foot statue of one of the four Gospel writers: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The symbolism here is unmistakable - just as the piers uphold the Cathedral, the Word of God upholds the Church.

Stained Glass Windows

The first stained-glass windows were placed in the Chapels of Saint Peter, Saint Joseph and the Blessed Virgin. The largest stained glass windows are the rose windows located in the north and south transcepts and in the eastern wall of the building. Charles J. Connick, the noted stained glass artist, described his creation of the windows as an opportunity to "express his vision of spiritual beauty in lyric color."

East Rose Window

The 26-foot-diameter east rose window, known as the Resurrection Window, depicts the Lamb of God in the center of a cross. Surrounding the lamb are the 12 apostles and a motif of vines and branches, representing Christ and his followers.

North Rose Window

The American Jesuit Martyrs window, on the north side, commemorates the eight North American martyrs.

South Rose Window

The south rose window is a pictorial display of the Beatitudes. Jesus sits in the center of the window and is surrounded by eight saints of the Americas who exemplify the beatitudes.

Other Windows

Other beautiful stained glass windows can be found throughout the Cathedral, not only in the various side chapels but in the transcepts and entryways as well. These windows have depictions of Christ and various saints and past figures of Christian history. Among them are ones of Saint Teresa of Avila, the Last Supper, Christ as the Good Shepherd, Pope Benedict XV, and Saint Dismas (the "Good Thief" alongside Christ on the cross).

Paintings and Frescoes

Three large paintings in the Cathedral represent scenes from Christ's crucifixion and death. The Entombment, a painting in dark tones depicting the preparation of Jesus' body after his death, was painted by 19th century artist Theodule-Augustin Ribot. Two other paintings are The Crucifixion by Minnesota native Nicholas Richard Brewer and The Descent from the Cross (1867) by Karl-Ernest-Rodolphe-Heinrich-Salem Lehmann. More recent additions are two frescoes painted by Minnesota artist Mark Balma in the mid 1990s. One tells the story of Bishop Joseph Cretin's arriving at his newly created diocese in 1851. The other fresco depicts Archbishop Ireland leading a procession for the first Mass in the Cathedral of Saint Paul on Palm Sunday 1915.

Conclusion

The Cathedral of Saint Paul has been made by many hands, from the initial sketches made by Masqueray, to the immigrants who contributed to the construction, to the artisans and designers who have carried on the task of embellishing the church during the last 85 years. It is truly a fitting testimony to God and a sacred place where all people can appreciate its magnificence and worship with uplifted hearts.