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Cathedral of Saint Paul

| 10.3.04
Cathedral of Saint Paul: Living the Mission of the Church, Mary Cabrini Durkin, editor

Although I'm not a Roman Catholic, I've enjoyed visiting the Cathedral of Saint Paul on many occasions. I've taken the occasional self-guided tour, attended numerous organ recitals, the occasional Minnesota Sinfonia concert (it was the rain location), and even went every Friday evening during Lent for Taize one year. In addition to being a hub for many spiritual and artistic events, however, the Cathedral draws me back again and again because the architecture, iconography, and stained glass create a soothing atmosphere brooding and simmering with spirituality.

Begun in 1906 but not completed until 1915, the Cathedral was the brainchild of Archbishop John Ireland. Not one to think small, he saw the overflow crowds and lack of space in the existing structures and envisioned a building with both architectural beauty and prominence in the city of St. Paul. (p. 2) This vision has been realized not only because of the many beautiful works of art that are part of the Cathedral, but also because the Cathedral occupies a prime piece of real estate on the hill just outside of downtown St. Paul and across from the Capitol building. The Minnesota statehouse and the Cathedral seem to twin each other, with the Cathedral dramatically upstaging its secular sibling.

This short, photo-filled book highlights the specific pieces of spiritual art in the Cathedral and draws out their greater story and purpose. Sometimes that greater story refers back to biblical passages. Other time the story is specific to the history of the church in the United States. Often it is an interesting interplay between the two, as is the case with the south rose window --a stained glass creation in which Jesus is depicted preaching the Beatitudes to a listening audience comprised of major saints of the Western Hemisphere. (p. 4)

Included on page 3 is a small map containing the entire floor plan of the Cathedral, with references to other page numbers explaining the art found in each of the chapels, altar area, sanctuary and other spaces. I found this helpful because even though I've been to the Cathedral a number of times I still didn't really know what all the areas were, or their function.

One of the more striking features of the Cathedral once you're inside is the apex of the dome above the sanctuary, on which is painted a huge golden dove --symbolizing the Holy Spirit. Surrounding the magnificent dove are figures representing the gifts of the Spirit (knowledge, counsel, understanding, piety, wisdom, fear of the Lord, and fortitude) and stained glass windows with representations of the sacraments of the Church (baptism, confirmation, holy orders, the Eucharist, matrimony, penance, and anointing the sick.) "The ceiling might be seen as a full theology of grace: God's love and care pouring out on us through the Holy Spirit and the Church's Sacraments, which are special avenues through which we experience that grace." (p. 14)

One interesting theme throughout the book is the attempt to interpret the meaning of some of the statuary and stained glass saints in light of the Catholic Church's sweeping reform efforts in Vatican II. Although the Cathedral was constructed long before council convened, some changes have been made to the sanctuary to foster a feeling of less distinction between the clergy and the laity. In this way the Cathedral can be seen as a kind of living organism that grows and changes as new understandings emerge. Yet there is also an unseverable link with the past that is reflected in the depictions of saints and customs tied to ethnic groups that may reflect the demographic past of the Roman Catholic Church more than its present or future. In any case, the Cathedral emerges as one complex, diverse, yet unified whole, stretching both forward and backward through time, space, and Spirit.

PUBLISHER: Editions Du Signe. France, 1998. ISBN: 2-87718-729-2
LINK: http://www.stpatricksguild.com/browse.cfm/4,329.html

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