Church Hopping: The Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis

Location: On Hennepin Avenue between 16th & 17th Streets in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota

Website: http://www.mary.org/

Blog: https://mybasilica.mary.org/NetCommunity/SSLPage.aspx?pid=401&dgs1225=0

Architect: Emmanuel Louis Masqueray was born in Dieppe, France, in 1861. After studying architecture at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, he moved to New York in 1887 to work for Carrere and Hastings. By 1893, he had started the US’ first completely independent artist’s workroom, the Atelier Masqueray. In 1905, he moved to Minnesota, after having been asked by Archbishop John Ireland to design the Cathedral of Saint Paul, and remained there, designing Catholic and Protestant churches, until his death in 1917. He is buried at Calvary Cemetery, the oldest of The Catholic Cemeteries, in St. Paul (753 Front Ave.).

[view of the Basilica as seen from the Walker Art Center]

History: Built between 1907 and 1915, it was the very first basilica established in the US. The first Mass was celebrated on May 31, 1914, when interior work was still being completed. In 1975 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

For a detailed history of “Father Hennepin's courageous voyage up the Mississippi River in 1680 to Father Michael O'Connell's bold struggle in the 1990s to save the deteriorating Basilica of Saint Mary,” visit the Basilica’s history page.

Exterior design: St. Mary’s is one of America’s greatest works in the Beaux-Arts tradition. Neoclassical in feel, it features strong lines and a sense of symmetry, as seen in the arched doors and windows. Atypical of the movement, however, is the domed roof, which had to be replaced in the 1990s, due to water damage.

[view of the copper dome lit up]

Because it gets so freakin' cold in Minnesota, the foundation may have come from the quarries in Minnesota but the superstructure is made out of granite from quarries in Vermont, which had historically proved successful.

Interior design: In the 1920s, stained glass windows were added by Thomas Gaytee of Gaytee Studios. Among the many windows are three rose windows, which are fifteen feet across. Each window is comprised of colors and symbols that promote the Bible. As the Basilica website notes:

In the stained glass windows and in carvings of stone and plaster there are many references to Mary, the mother of Jesus. The Fleur-de-lis, Mystical Rose, Pierced Heart, Pomegranate, Dove, Sun, Lofty Cedar, and Tower of David are some of the many symbols of Mary found throughout the church.

The interior of the Basilica boasts both local and foreign contributions:

The marble altar and baldachin were designed by Boston architects Maginnis & Walsh, and handcrafted at the Benziger Brothers Studios in Pietrasanta, Italy. The elaborate wrought iron grille surrounding the sanctuary was fabricated by Flour City Ornamental Iron Company of Minneapolis.

[image of altar via this outside Flickr source]

The domed section of the ceiling, which is 48' inside, is azure and gold. It features a Venetian mosaic containing the image of a dove, the emblem of the Holy Spirit.

Interesting fact: 55% of the Basilica's members are under the age of 40, and the community members come from more than 300 different zip codes.

Artist community: The Basilica has an art gallery and an artist-in-residence program, as well as several music programs.

Pop culture: To fund its restoration, the Basilica began hosting an annual music festival in 1995. Craig Finn said that when he heard that there was going to be "a whole lot of beer, a whole lot of rock 'n' roll, a little bit of Catholicism," The Hold Steady agreed to play at the 15th annual Cities 97 Basilica Block Party on July 11 of this year. Now a Brooklynite, the lead singer has found that much of his hometown has changed: “In fact the only thing that really seems the same is Minneapolis’ two greatest houses of worship: the Basilica and First Avenue!”

[door outside of First Avenue]

In the below picture of Tad Kubler, lead guitarist of The Hold Steady, you can see the Father Hennepin Memorial, a copper statue that the Knights of Columbus dedicated for the 250th anniversary of Father Hennepin's discovery of the Falls of Saint Anthony in 1930.

The Hold Steady's poignant performance on the "church stage" included the band's slower, spiritual songs, like "Citrus" and "Lord, I'm Discouraged." At the end of "How a Resurrection Really Feels," Craig crossed himself. And when he walked off the stage after "Killer Parties," he ended saying, "The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, we are the Hold Steady." It is no wonder then that the Hold Steady message boards were lit up with comments from self-identifying lapsed Catholics, who said "the Hold Steady has helped me process through that anger [towards religion]" and called the show "redemptive."

[Craig Finn blesses the audience with his singing]

Meanwhile, over at the main stage, when you heard Adam Duritz launched into the opening lines of "Rain King," "When I think of heaven / Deliver me in a black-winged bird," you couldn't help but be reminded of the spiritual undertones of many of the The Counting Crows' songs and Adam's own spiritual musings.

What's really cool is that back in June, the Basilica Choir actually did their own reditions of Counting Crows' "Hangin' Around," The Black Crowes' "She Talks to Angels," and The Hold Steady's "Lord, I'm Discouraged."

[Thousands of kids from the Upper Midwest, wandering around the Basilica]

Tour: For information on taking a tour of the Basilica, go here.


  1. Were you there, Stephanie? I was listening to Counting Crows from an area rooftop party. The drive home was incredibly long because of the angry, happy, but all drunk people in the streets.
    The Basilica Block Party is an ironic ally of the Basilica itself.

  2. Betsy, yep, I timed my trip so I'd be there for the Block Party. If I had known there were other BWCers in the area, I would've suggested we meet up! Next time...

  3. Heard the sounds....next time hope to meet up with everyone too. Amazing time in Minneapolis!!!!!