Magnificent cathedral basilica is reason to love St. Louis

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

Virginia and Bill Barella of Pittsburgh were in awe of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, and they weren't surprised about its most recent accolade.

"There are no words to describe this," Virginia Barella said as she and Bill looked around the cathedral basilica. She teaches a class in mosaic art at a craft store in Pittsburgh.

The grandeur of the church is why the cathedral basilica was named Sept. 1 among the "66 Reasons to Love St. Louis," picked in no particular order in a campaign sponsored by Phillips 66, which has commissioned a mural to showcase the landmarks. The cathedral basilica is in an accompanying guidebook and map at No. 11 under the heading "Chasing Steeples."

The guide to the city's top 66 features cites the distinct structural tradition of St. Louis' churches, which exemplify several classic architectural styles and embody "our shared history in ways a commercial building cannot. The Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis in the Central West End boasts an iconic dome and one of the largest collections of mosaics in the Western Hemisphere."

It adds that the cathedral basilica "is one of the most iconic churches in St. Louis. The cathedral basilica exterior was completed in 1914, however, the interior was not fully finished until the 1980s. Check in to the cathedral basilica and enjoy a tour of this beautiful church."

Besides the 83,000 square feet of mosaic art, which are designed to remind all that God reaches into earthly lives, the cathedral basilica has 46,410 square feet of granite floor, two stained-glass rose windows, several marble statues, 63 marble pillars, four chapels and three domes. Primarily a place for Catholics and others who frequent it for prayer, it also is an icon for the city, something considered beyond even the best of the cathedrals of Europe. The cathedral basilica was recognized by TripAdvisor as the #2 attraction in St. Louis, just behind the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Other smaller churches also exemplify eras in architecture seldom seen in the new world, the Phillips 66 promotion adds, citing St. Stanislaus in the Polish cathedral style, St. Francis de Sales in the Gothic Revival style, and the Second Presbyterian Church of St. Louis in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. Also cited is the Old Cathedral (Basilica of St. Louis, King of France) on the riverfront.

The mother church and the spiritual center of the archdiocese, the cathedral basilica is the church in which the bishop has his seat. The cathedral basilica parish has about 40-plus docents, or guides. Two or three volunteers usually are on hand each weekday morning and in the afternoon to lead tour groups and school groups. Volunteers serve in the mosaics museum and gift shop. The Friends of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis helps support upkeep of the structure and the St. Louis Cathedral Concerts helps promote it to the wider community.

The Barellas visited on Sept. 4. It was their first trip to the city, and the cathedral basilica was at the top of their list.

"It's a great stop and a beautiful city," Virginia Barella said, as her husband urged her to visit the mosaics museum downstairs. She waved him off though, saying: "I'm not done looking around."

Touring the cathedral

The cathedral basilica is open from 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Visitors who aren't participating in Mass should wait to visit until the completion of daily Mass. Masses are celebrated weekdays at 7 and 8 a.m. and 12:05 p.m. and Saturday at 8 a.m. Sunday Masses are celebrated at 8 and 10 a.m., noon and 5 p.m. with a vigil Mass at 5 p.m. on Saturdays.

Guided tours are available weekdays between 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Contact the tour office at (314) 373-8241 for tour reservations.

Self-guided tours don't require reservations; however, visitors are encouraged to call and ensure the church is available, especially on the weekends. A tour is hosted on most Sundays following noon Mass. See www.cathedralstl.org. 

Soccer gets notice

The Christian Brothers College soccer team that played in the 1904 Olympics at Washington University in St. Louis is highlighted in a listing of soccer as one of the "66 Things to Love About St. Louis." CBC at the time served as a college and high school. CBC's team, which had eight players from the former CBC college here, was one of two teams fielded by the United States, eventually winning a silver medal at the games. The other team was from St. Rose Parish in north St. Louis. A Canadian team won the tournament, defeating both St. Louis teams. CBC defeated St. Rose.

"Soccer in St. Louis covers more than a century's worth of professional, college, club and prep soccer teams, representing one of the nation's richest municipal soccer heritages," the organizers of the soccer listing point out. It suggests visiting the St. Louis Soccer Hall of Fame, which includes a museum featuring past professional teams; the St. Louis University Billikens, winners of 10 soccer championships; and some of the top local club and amateur teams. The hall of fame is at the Midwest Soccer Academy, 5247 Fyler Ave. in south St. Louis.

The highlight exhibit is a tribute to the famous "Game of Their Lives" 1950 U.S. triumph against favorites England, with a U.S. roster featuring five St. Louis natives who had played in Catholic parish leagues.

According to the Phillips 66 team that assembled the list, finding 66 reasons wasn't the hard part; refining all of the submissions down to just 66 was the difficulty. See the list and information about the mural, a contest, concert and block party at www.66ReasonsSTL.com. 

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