Downtown Tourist

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June 20, 2005 // UPDATED 1:55 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Linda Koutsky
Linda Koutsky

The Basilica of St. Mary

16th Street & Hennepin Avenue South

Minneapolis' most prominent and ornate building holds court over the busy intersection as Hennepin Avenue gently turns Downtown. We've all seen it, many attend its services, but what do you really know about "America's first Basilica?"

It all started with John Ireland. Born in Kilkenny County, Ireland in 1838, he immigrated to St. Paul as a child then attended seminary school in France where he became enamored with Beaux Arts-style cathedrals. After returning to Minnesota, Ireland became St. Paul's first Archbishop. On a trip to the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, Ireland met French architect Emmanuel Masqueray, the fair's chief designer. A graduate of the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, Masqueray eventually opened a St. Paul architectural office to work on commissions from Ireland for both the St. Paul Cathedral (1906) and the Basilica, whose cornerstone was laid on May 31, 1908.

So what is a Basilica anyway? It's actually an architectural term for a rectangular building with a semi-circular apse on one or both ends. The configuration was designated by the Vatican with its own special coat of arms. Pope Pius XI honored our Basilica in 1926 as the first of its kind in America.

Beaux Arts architecture was popular between 1885 and 1920 especially on civic buildings, museums and railroad stations. True to the style, the Basilica shows influences of Greek and Roman design: overall symmetry, rounded arches, impressive columns, and lots of garlands and carved ornament. The exterior is finished with Vermont granite, and a recently reconstructed copper dome tops it off. The "beautiful art" style exemplifies truth, beauty and goodness. Gaytee Studios of Southwest Minneapolis, also responsible for City Hall's windows, designed many of it's the Basilica's stained-

glass windows.

The Basilica was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. It's open weekdays 7 a.m.-5 p.m. A detailed visitor's tour guide of the interior is available in a rack on the back of the last row of pews. Tours are available after weekend masses or by appointment by calling 333-1381.

LUNCH TIP: For lunch, enjoy risotto champignon around the corner from the Basilica at Joe's Garage (1610 Harmon Place).

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