The Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis is the city’s main Roman Catholic church. My guide in St. Louis, the wonderful Nancy Milton, said that she often hosts international journalists who want to see the major attractions in St. Louis, but balk when she suggests stopping by the Cathedral. “Oh, we have cathedrals in Europe,” they’ll say (with what I would guess is a patronizing air).
“We’ll just stop by briefly, but we won’t stay if you don’t want to,” Nancy will reply.
And then the journalists enter the church and are transfixed. Most will spend an hour wandering through its beauties, despite their earlier reluctance. I was transfixed, too, when we toured this cathedral.
The church brilliantly blends a Romanesque exterior with a Byzantine interior. Built a century ago, its walls feature the world’s largest mosaic collection, works of art created by the German firm of August Wagner, which later became the famed Ravenna Mosaic Company. Nearly 80 years in the making, they include 41.5 million tesserae (pieces of tile) covering 83,000 square feet. In 1997 the church was designated a basilica by Pope John Paul II, an honor that recognizes sanctuaries that have exceptional historical or artistic elements.
On my tour, our guide explained that the history of St. Louis and the cathedral are closely intertwined. The city’s original Roman Catholic cathedral was built next to the riverfront, but as the population grew a new church was needed. When the present cathedral was built in the early twentieth century, St. Louis was one of the largest cities in the country, and its citizens wanted to have a church that showed that the city had truly come of age. They designed it to be both magnficient and unique, two goals that certainly were achieved in this incredible sanctuary.
The inside of the cathedral is a massive, glittering storybook, with images that tell the story of Judaism and Christianity as well as the history of the city. It’s clear why the church is well-loved by the larger St. Louis community, not just Roman Catholics.
Upon entering, visitors can head to the cathedral’s museum shop and ask for a free tour of the church (it’s worth the time, believe me). Take special note of the Tiffany-designed Blessed Mother’s Chapel and the exquisite All Souls Chapel. Downstairs, a Mosaic Museum gives additional information on the church’s construction and interior decoration.
You’ll find the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis at the corner of Lindell Blvd. and Newstead Avenue.