Minneapolis & St. Paul, Minnesota
The Basilica of St. Mary and the Cathedral of St. Paul are the co-cathedrals of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. This interesting and arrangement is somewhat appropriate. America’s Twin Cities, as Minneapolis and St. Paul are nicknamed, deserve twin cathedrals. Though not technically twins, both cathedrals were designed by the same architect in the same style and were completed within a few years of each other. In addition to being America’s best known co-cathedrals, the Basilica of St. Mary enjoys the distinction of being the first church in the United States to be designated as a basilica, while the Cathedral of St. Paul is the third largest Catholic church in the United States.
Roman Catholicism was introduced to Minnesota in the 1830s. The first church in the territory, a log structure, was established in what is now St. Paul in 1841. Within a decade, St. Paul had grown so quickly that it was designated as a Diocese, and a new cathedral was required. This church, the old Cathedral of St. Paul, was the first major stone church in the American northwest.
A few years after the church was established in St. Paul, Catholicism was introduced to neighboring Minneapolis. That city’s first church was the Church of the Immacculate Conception. However, Minneapolis grew quickly during the post-Civil War years, and it too became a diocese. A new church, the Cathedral of St. Mary, was constructed to replace the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
In 1888, Minneapolis and St. Paul were established as an Archdiocese. John Ireland, the Bishop of St. Paul, became the new archbishop. Ireland, to accommodate the growing Catholic population, decided to replace both existing cathedrals which were increasingly outdated. In 1903 and 1904 he announced the new cathedrals of St. Mary’s and St. Paul’s respectively. Emmanuel Masqueray, who became famous for his work at the World’s Fair, was named the architect of the project.
Construction on both buildings began at roughly the same time. The Cathedral of St. Paul was completed first, confirming it as the mother church of the archdiocese. In 2009 it received the additional designation as the National Shrine of the Apostle Paul, the only such shrine in North America. The Cathedral of St. Mary was completed a few years later. In 1926 it was designated as a minor basilica by Pope Pius XI, the first true Catholic basilica in the United States. Together these churches serve as the co-cathedrals of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
The Cathedral of St. Paul is the third largest Catholic church building in the United States, and one of the finest built in the Classical Revival style. The building dates from the 1910’s, though interior work and restorations continued well into the 20th century. The dome of the church is the iconic site of the city of St. Paul. The lavish interior features statues of the four Evangelists and other beautiful artwork. A massive baldachin honors the shrine’s namesake, St. Paul.
The Basilica of St. Mary, though not a true twin of St. Paul’s, was completed in a similar Classical Revival style and the two churches are definitely reminiscent of one another. It too boasts a magnificent dome. Another architectural element of note is the interior barrel vaulted ceiling, which is slightly wider than the one at the Vatican. A mass baldachino over the altar honors the Virgin Mary.
The Cathedral of St. Paul and the Basilica of St. Mary are located in the downtown areas of St. Paul and Minneapolis, respectively, approximately nine miles from each other. Both churches are open year-round. There is no cost of admission to either. Web: www.cathedralsaintpaul.org (official website of St. Paul’s); www.mary.org (official website of St. Mary’s).
Of similar interest in the Twin Cities area, Our Lady of Lourdes is the oldest Catholic site in Minneapolis.