Photo Essay: Cathedrals of St. Louis, Part 1: The Basilica

My husband and I took a 3-day trip to St. Louis, Missouri this week. While there, we saw three cathedrals which were quite awe-inspiring.

We first visited the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, a Roman Catholic church. The construction of the cathedral was begun in 1907. The architecture of the exterior is Romanesque, with granite walls, rose windows and two towers. The main dome rests on an elevated drum. The cathedral was completed in 1988.

The exterior was magnificent in itself, enhanced by the magnolia and cherry blossoms.
20160320_155508The architecture of the interior is mostly Byzantine, as well as Romanesque. The interior ceilings, domes, soffits, arches and part of the walls are covered with gold mosaic tile, with scenes and portraits in mosaic. It is spectacular. I felt almost as though I was back in Saint Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg! It was definitely a jaw-dropping experience!
20160320_150456The cathedral contains 83,000 square feet of mosaic art created by twenty artists which took 75 years to install.

The altar
The main altar

There are several interior domes. The central dome, pictured pictured below right, rises 143 feet from the floor to the central spotlight, symbolic of the power of God’s love. The sanctuary dome, pictured above and below left, pictures mosaics of the twelve apostles.

The sanctuary dome

The mosaics were created with over 41,500,00 glass tile, using more than 7,000 shades of color, which tell the story of the Catholic faith from creation to the last judgment. There are scenes from the Old and New Testaments, as well as illustrating more recent developments in the Church in North America, and particular St. Louis.

The main altar and dome were flanked by two small chapels, the Blessed Sacrament Chapel (which we were not allowed to photograph) and the Blessed Virgin’s Chapel, pictured below.


Below: East Transept. The stations of the cross are located on the plain walls of the east and west transepts.


Beautiful mosaic of the mother and child, with angels on either side.


The All Souls Chapel (below) is designed in the Viennese Reconstructionist architectural style. Black marble is used to symbolize death and white marble is used to symbolize resurrection or eternal life. The statue is of the Risen Christ.

The narthex is a good example of Byzantine style art and architecture.  The mosaic panels contain scenes about the life of Saint Louis IX, King of France (1217-1270) and patron saint of the city. 20160320_152456

The swirling green vine is symbolic of Christ. He is portrayed in the central mosaic as “Teacher” (below left).


There is a mosaic museum in the basement of the cathedral, which explains some of the mosaics and how they are made.

Mosaic artist's workshop
Mosaic artist’s workshop

The mosaicist translates the artist’s final design into the mosaic medium. When he receives the final design from the artist, he traces the design on brown paper in reverse. The brown paper design is then cut up into small pieces that the mosacist can fit on his studio bench. He then selects the pieces of tile or tessarae, choosing from thousands of colors to reproduce the artist’s final design. He pastes the small pieces of tessarae onto the brown paper. Although the mosaicist does not manufacture the glass pieces, he often does have to cut pieces to fit the shape of the design. The gold tessarae are only installed once the colored designs are completed.



Other objects in the museum: an organ and priests’ vestments.

In recognition of the beauty and historical significance of this cathedral and the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Pope John Paul II designated the Cathedral of St. Louis a Basilica in 1997.



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