Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Cathedral of St. Paul designated a national shrine


How awesome is this shrine! This is nothing but an abode of God and that is the gateway to heaven. — Genesis 28:17

The Cathedral of St. Paul is the mother church of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, a site on the National Register of Historic Places and the reason Minnesota's capital isn't named Pig's Eye.

Now it's also a national shrine.

The Roman Catholic archdiocese announced the designation for St. Paul's majestic church on the hill Tuesday, making it the first national shrine in the state and the only one in North America dedicated to honor Saint Paul.

There are about 120 national shrines in the U.S., a designation for a church or other sacred place where the faithful make pilgrimages for a particular pious reason.

"A shrine is considered a place where divine grace is manifested in a very special way — a place where the human and divine world intersect," according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, responsible for deciding what gets the designation.

The cathedral, which opened for worship in 1915, has been a destination for hundreds of thousands of tourists, schoolchildren on field trips, worshippers, a president and two future popes.

The granite 3,000-seat Beaux Arts structure, topped by a 306-foot-high dome, has long been regarded as an architectural and historical treasure.

"Now it's recognized as a place of national significance spiritually," said the Very Rev. Joseph Johnson, the cathedral's rector.

"It's likely we're going to get more tourists, more visitors," said archdiocese spokesman Dennis McGrath. "Certainly, Catholics are hep to the deal. They're going to come to make a pilgrimage.


"It is a recognition that the church gives to places because of its beauty or prominence," said the Rev. Louis Studer, director of Christ the King Retreat Center in Buffalo, Minn., and former president of the National Association of Shrine and Pilgrimage Apostolate. "The name itself, 'national,' implies it belongs to the entire country."

The designation of a shrine honoring Saint Paul comes as Catholics are winding up a jubilee "Year of Saint Paul" declared by Pope Benedict XVI to commemorate the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of the apostle.

The current building is actually the fourth version of the Cathedral of St. Paul here. The first was a log chapel built by Father Lucien Galtier in 1841.

When he settled on a name for the new church overlooking the Mississippi River, Galtier, a missionary seeking to establish a permanent Christian community in the upper Mississippi River Valley, probably felt an affinity with another missionary who wandered far to spread the gospel.

"He named it Saint Paul," Johnson said.

And then Galtier convinced the locals that the frontier settlement should be called St. Paul, too, instead of the existing name, Pig's Eye.

Richard Chin can be reached at 651-228-5560.


1906: Construction begins on a new cathedral intended to match some of the great churches of Europe.

1907: Nearly 100,000 people gather in a special ceremony to watch the cornerstone be laid.

1915: Archbishop John Ireland holds the first liturgy on Palm Sunday after the construction of the building, designed by French architect Emmanuel Louis Masqueray, is completed at a cost of $1.5 million.

1936: Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, Vatican secretary of state and the future Pope Pius XII, celebrates Mass at the cathedral to overflow crowds.

1958: After decades of work on the interior, the cathedral is consecrated in a five-hour rite by Archbishop William O'Brady.

1962: President John F. Kennedy attends 11 a.m. Mass at the cathedral two weeks before the Cuban Missile Crisis.

1975: The cathedral is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

1984: Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, later elected Pope Benedict XVI, visits the cathedral. "I remember the Cathedral of St. Paul as the most beautiful cathedral in the U.S.," he later says.

2000: A $30 million exterior restoration project is started, including the replacement of the copper domed roof. Interior work, estimated to cost $10 million to $15 million, is still needed.

2007: Fireworks, a parade and other festivities commemorate the centennial of the laying of the cathedral cornerstone.

2009: The cathedral is designated a national shrine by the Office of the Holy See and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Pioneer Press

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