Cathedral of Saint Paul, National Shrine of the Apostle Paul (Saint Paul)

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Cathedral of Saint Paul

The originally Cathedral of Saint Paul, then known as The Chapel On The Bluff.
Today's current Cathedral of Saint Paul.
Address: 239 Selby Avenue N
City of St. Paul, Minnesota
Ramsey County, Minnesota
State/province: Minnesota
Country: United States
Year built: 1904
Primary Style: Neoclassical
Secondary Style: Beaux Arts
Historic Function: Religious/Place of worship
Current Function: Religious/Place of worship
Architect or source of design: Emmanuel Louis Masqueray; Whitney Warren
Material of Exterior Wall Covering: Granite
Material of Roof: Copper

City of St. Paul Ramsey County

National Register of Historic Places Information
Reference Number: 74001039
Certification date: June 28, 1974
Level of significance: State
Primary Style: Beaux Arts
Secondary Style: Classical Revival

The Cathedral of Saint Paul was a long and challenging process to become the place of worship that it now is. The Cathedral, throughout various buildings, has been in existence since 1841 but moved several times before being located where it is today. Today, the Cathedral of Saint Paul is known as the fourth and final version of the church, sitting dramatically atop Summit Hill in the city of Saint Paul, Minnesota. The strategic placement of the Cathedral was meant to signify power by overlooking the State Capital, representing church over state.

The history of the construction of the Cathedral dates all the way back to 1840 with the Chapel on the Bluff and continued to evolve for over a hundred years until 2003, including renovations, into the now known Cathedral of Saint Paul.



The Chapel on the Bluff was the original version of the Cathedral. Father Lucien Galtier, minister of the French Canadians, was sent on a task to find a suitable place for worship during the spring of 1840. He ultimately chose a site on a bluff that overlooked the Mississippi River, hence where it gets the name Chapel on the Bluff. The selection of this location was made due to the fact that it was accessible by both land and water. Construction of the chapel began a year later in the fall of 1841.

The overall construction process of the chapel was unique to most places of worship. Rather than having the typical European Cathedral design, the chapel represented a stable, specifically the stable in Bethlehem. Its walls were unshaven and the roof was bark-covered. Overall, the materials were unique for the construction and architectural design of a chapel.

After a few years had passed, in 1844, Father Galtier found the structure to be too small and cramped for the needs of the growing parish. An addition was built which ended up almost doubling the size of the original chapel. This little Chapel was officially named the first Cathedral of Saint Paul on July 2, 1851 when Joseph Cretin became the first Bishop of Saint Paul and then proclaimed the chapel to be the Cathedral of Saint Paul.

The modest structure was once again too small for the large number of worshippers attending mass. During several services worshippers were forced to stand outside due to the overcrowding. This is when the plans to move the cathedral to downtown Saint Paul were put into effect. The overall construction process for the new cathedral only took five months and the final cost for land and construction was $5,900.

While the new cathedral now resembled more of an average day cathedral, just two years after the construction was completed, the size of the new building was once again still too small. In July of 1854 the plans for the next Cathedral were to be extravagant and widely impressive compared to most religious structures. The construction materials were stone with several stain glass pieces throughout the insides and outsides of the church. The massive structure was built to be 175 by 100 feet and boast a steeple 250 feet high.

Construction process on the new Cathedral was progressing smoothing until the financial panic of 1857 hit and all work on the building had stopped. With hopes to complete the Cathedral, all architectural ornamentation from the original design was removed. Leaving the Cathedral as a solid, spacious and inexpensive structure. Throughout the early 1860s the interior of the church was still ongoing, but even after completion once again worshipers found the new Cathedral to be too small. So, the challenge and vision of the construction for the fourth and final Cathedral were put into effect.

It was not until January of 1906 when the designs from the Executive Building Committee and work on the structure were approved. On June 2, 1907 the cornerstone was laid, in late 1914 the exterior was completed and work then began on the interior. Crew members and construction workers worked around the clock to make sure the Cathedral was completed for the first mass goal date, Easter Sunday in 1915. With lots of hard work, the Cathedral ended up being completed on Palm Sunday, one week early. Based on some more funding problems, the interior of the Cathedral was completed minimally and did not officially reach its full potential until twenty-five years later and after the completion of the three rose windows. “The Cathedral of Saint Paul is now formally recognized as an "edifice of merit," worthy of assuming its place among the premier houses of worship in America.” (Cathedral of Saint Paul, 2012)

Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) Through Architecture

The 120-foot-wide dome sitting at the very top of the Cathedral is a prominent feature of worship inspired by the many churches located throughout France. Not only is the exterior of the dome significant, but the interior of the dome is as well. Both of which were inspired by the Beaux Arts architecture style in France. The dome is supported on the interior by four massive piers, all of which have a large mosaic representing one of the four cardinal virtues through angels. These four virtues are Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude, and Justice, as well as the base of each pier displaying statues that represent the four Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Cathedral of Saint Paul listed on its website, "the symbolism here is unmistakable - just as the piers uphold the Cathedral, the Word of God upholds the Church.” This statement is basically stating, that the architectural piers go hand in hand with the representation of worship and power, being directly pulled from examples in the bible.

The Cathedral of Saint Paul has several stained glass windows located throughout the church; a significant aspect in most churches during this time period. Although there are several stained glass window located all throughout the Cathedral, there are three main windows they are most known for. The East Rose Window, the North Rose Window, and South Rose Window. Abbot Suger was well known for his magnificent creations of stain glass art where he considered light to be the manifestation of God. His beliefs toward God through light and stained glass were in his mind a reflection of wealth and power as well as worship. The three significant windows located in the different directions throughout the Cathedral display images of stories that were inspired by the bible. The Cathedral of Saint Paul uses its stained glass windows more for a representation of worship rather than wealth. Although, with the amount of stain glass built into the Cathedral, it did take a great amount of wealth to get them there in order for them to represent what the Catholic Church stands for and believes in.

Granite stone is the main material that was used to construct the exterior of the Cathedral. The stone was locally brought in from St. Cloud, Minnesota and was delivered in the shape of a cross. Stone was also a main material for building Cathedrals as a reflection of this belief where light represents holy aspects. Stone allows for structures to be built having soaring heights that allow plenty of empty vertical space for great amounts of light to shine through. This is a symbolic representation for how God will display his presence and shine down on believers.

The Cathedral of Saint Paul is a magnificent landmark for the state of Minnesota. It signifies worship through the Catholic Religion and beliefs of God, but as well as through the location, materials, and meanings behind the way it was constructed. Although it is the fourth of its kind, the Cathedral of Saint Paul’s grand architectural design exceeds all other aspects of the original three. It has more meaning behind the design and the materials that went into helping represent those meanings.

Added to the National Register of Historic Places on June 28, 1974, the Cathedral is known for its dramatic location and outstanding architecture within the massive structure. Several years later on March 25, 2009, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops declared the Cathedral of Saint Paul to be a National shrine. The first in Minnesota and the only one in North America dedicated to the Apostle Paul. The Cathedral is now also known as the National Shrine of the Apostle Paul.

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