Wednesday, March 9, 2016


The "Twin Cities" of Minneapolis and St. Paul are more like fraternal than identical twins. Although they have many things in common, they have distinct borders, and each has its own personality. 

One example of the fraternal-twin split can be illustrated by the Catholic church. Together, Minneapolis and St. Paul make up a Roman Catholic Archdiocese with about 750,000 members who are led by a single archbishop. Each city has a large church that acts as the religious heart of the city, and together the two buildings serve as "co-cathedrals" for the Archdiocese.  Both churches were designed by Franco-American architect Emmanuel Louis Masqueray (chief architect of the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis) and were built at the same time, and they both reflect Masqueray's French training. 

And yet, just as the two cities are distinct, so are the two churches.

This post will focus on the building in Minneapolis, a Basilica dedicated to St. Mary, and my next post will discuss the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, which was actually built almost simultaneously. (Imagine that drain on the church budget.) 

Construction of St. Mary's Basilica took place between 1907 and 1915, although the interior decoration wasn't completed until 1925. There are 83 Roman Catholic churches in the United States that have been designated minor basilicas (the only four major basilicas being in Rome), and this was the very first one, attaining that status in 1926 when it was so designated by Pope Pius XI.
The architectural design is Classical/Baroque or Beaux Arts, depending on who you ask. (I don't know enough about architecture to know whether or not that is essentially the same style.) The two spires are 116 feet tall and the central dome is 138 feet. On top of the dome is a secondary structure and a cross, bringing the total height to 200 feet.

Images of Mary are prominent both outside and in:
Inside, the marble altar is under a fifty-foot-tall, four-columned canopy, topped by Mary:

That's Bob at the bottom of the photo above, photographing the interior of the richly hued dome, which is right over Mary.

Mary, from her dramatic pedestal, welcomes all those who come to worship:

Throughout the Basilica, Mary is shown at various stages of her life. Here she is as a young girl with her mother, St. Anne, who is teaching her from a scroll:

Exquisitely detailed stained glass windows line the periphery of the nave, each showing a scene from Mary's life. I've included some below. Mary is always wearing a blue robe with a red lining.

Left: A pregnant Mary meets her cousin Elisabeth, who is pregnant with John the Baptist. Right: The Nativity (I especially like the newborn babe sitting up in the manger):

Left: The flight to Egypt. Right: Mary instructing the young child Jesus:

Left: Mary witnesses her Son carrying his cross. Right: Mary grieves at Golgotha:

I have to insert here another depiction of Golgotha, this one from the Stations of the Cross. I just read in Farrar's Life of Christ that the cross would have not been very tall, just tall enough to keep the suffering person's feet off the ground. This relief depicts it that way:

Back to the windows.

Left: The Deposition from the Cross. Right: Mary grieves:
(By the way, I don't know if the windows were this green, or if it's just the lighting that our cameras picked up.)

Here is Mary years later, now the Queen of Heaven:

Mary sits at the center of this showpiece window, wearing the crown of the Queen of Heaven, holding the Baby Jesus:

A view of the full window

While Mary is the primary figure in this Basilica, there are also other things and people to see.

For example, I'm not sure who this Franciscan is holding the Christ child, but I like his solemn face and casual grasp of the toddler, and is that a loaf of bread in his right hand? 

Various figures are flanked by brilliant stained glass windows:

I'm not sure if this is the baptismal font or jut a station for Holy Water, but I really like the swing-away lid:

Important Old Testament figures are also represented, including Abraham, Amos, and Jeremiah:
There are also Jonah, Moses, and Rachel (very exciting to have a woman):

A small, simple vestibule contains only this statue of Christ, arms outstretched in what I see as a symbol of his crucifixion, of his resurrection (palms and face turned upward to heaven), and finally of his welcoming all to come to Him:

One more gem in this church was the art show on the lower level: a series of wood carvings and etchings by Sister Mary Ann Osborne, SSND (School Sisters of Notre Dame). See her bio and website here.
The Announcement 

The Lost One
Beautiful explanatory text: "The true Christian is not afraid to get their hands
dirty by reaching out to sinners, even at the risk of losing their reputation,
because as the parable of the Good Shepherd teaches us, no one
should be lost."  ~Pope Francis

Holy Exchange
Explanatory texxt: "We go forward together toward the light to find
the love of God. But is the love of God within us, even in moments
of darkness? Is the love of God hidden there? Yes, always! The love
of God never leaves us. It is always with us. Let us have faith in
this love." ~ Pope Francis

"Follow the star which has arisen in you. It will certainly lead
you to Jesus."  ~Blessed Theresa Gerhardinger

Gather Up the Fragments
Part of the explanatory text: "When the Lord blesses, a little bread is enough for many."
~Blessed Theresa Geerhardinger

Be Awake
Explanatory text: "The Beatitudes are the identity card of
a Christian, so simple and yet so difficult."
~Pope Francis

"What about myself now? Am I prepared for the
great journey into eternity? Will my lamp be burning
and filled with the oil of good works when the
bridegroom comes?
~Blessed Theresa Gerhardinger

Next up: The fraternal twin, St. Paul's Cathedral in St. Paul


  1. A beautiful, beautiful church. The fact those two churches were built at the same time by the same diocese is incredible.

  2. I really adore those wood cravings, along with the very touching text. The detail about the cross not being way off the ground is interesting--something I've never heard, but something that makes sense.