Cathedral of Saint Paul Tours:
Location: Summit Avenue, Saint Paul
Cost: Free Entrance & Guided Tours
Hours: Typically open to walk around Daily 7am-7pm.
Guided Tours: Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 1pm.
Best Time To Go: Work around the tour hours of the James J Hill house which is the main attraction on Summit Ave. James J Hill House Tours run Wednesday-Saturday 10am-3:30pm; Sunday 1-3:30pm.
Towering over St Paul from old St Anthony’s Hill, the Cathedral of Saint Paul is one of the grandest churches in the United States. Not only is the Cathedral itself impressive but it also holds great views over the State Capitol, Downtown St Paul and Dayton Bluff making a must see for any visitor. With it’s prime location make sure to pair it with our Summit Avenue Walking Tour to enhance your experience.
Touring The Cathedral of Saint Paul:
After entering the main sanctuary through any of the Churches 12 wooden doors you are instantly struck by the 186 feet tall and 76 feet wide dome tower over seating for 4,000 people. The massive dome is not only amazing beautiful but was designed with function to give everyone an unobstructed view of the pulpit. We especially love the 24 large stained glass windows sitting on each side of the Cathedral letting in colorful light as electric lights weren’t added until 1940. Making your way around the church you’ll find statues of the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in each of the 4 corners. You’ll also see massive bronze works and painting honor the life of St Paul, the namesake of the Cathedral.
Our favorite feature outside of the dome is the Shrine of Nations in the back of the Cathedral. The Shrine is made up of 6 mini-chapels with statues honoring the Patron Saints of the main 6 European ethnic groups that first settled St Paul. The first mini-chapel has a statue St. Therese of Lisieux dedicated for the missionaries and it has an awesome plaque pointing out a stone from the castle of Rouen, France, where Joan of Arc was prisoner in 1431. The Stations of the Cross are posted on each of the round columns and tell the story of Jesus and the cross.
Historical Overview of the Cathedral of Saint Paul:
Catholic Churches in St Paul date back to the 1st chapel built out of log by Archbishop Joseph Crétin in 1840 near Fountain Falls where St Paul’s first building (a saloon) had stood. Over the next few years St Paul boomed and the congregation quickly grew to 3,000 member causing the the Church to expand into the first Cathedral of Saint Paul in 1851. This growing church population needed something bigger than their wooded buildings to worship in so they decided to build a new 3-story church out of stone in 1856 at the corner of St Peter and 6th street in Downtown St Paul.
The location of the new stone Church was good and centrally located, but didn’t have the towering location over town many cities cathedrals had. Most of the land on the bluffs around St Paul was buying bought up quickly by the rich and the Church missed its chance to buy in the first go around. The best land was bought along Summit Avenue on St Anthony’s Hill including 40 acres bought by Ohio farmer Jeremiah W. Selby in 1849. Shelby used the land to farm potatoes but paid a hefty price at $50 an acre when land had recently only been $1 an acre. Shelby was no dumby as he got rich quick and was elected to the Minnesota Territory’s House of Representatives. In 1854, one year after Shelby’s death the road was named in his honor and a big part of his land was bought by Kittson Mansion who built a home in the Second Empire Style design with Mansard roof at the sight of the current Cathedral. The style was a little creepy and was a mix between the motel on Hitchcock’s thriller Psycho and the Addams Family Mansion.
In 1903 Archbishop John Ireland declared he would build new grand Cathedral in St Paul and also The Church of St Mary in Minneapolis to replace the Church of the Immaculate Conception. Looking back it was a pretty bold move to replace to City’s major churches at the same time. Ireland had served as a Chaplin during the Civil War before coming to St Paul where he was known for being very progressive in immigration and education although he was strongly outspoken against saloons. He gained a lot of favor through education and even helped found St Paul’s St Thomas University among many other schools. From his time in the Civil War he became friends with both Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, and became a hard line Republican in a time when Irish Catholics were very Democrat.
Ireland began his push to build his two grand Churches by finding the perfect architect before he even had any land secured. Local architect Cass Gilbert twice turned down the designing of the Churches because he was busy in NYC, but he referred his friend Frenchman Emmanuel Masqueray whom he recently worked with at the 1904 Saint Louis World’s Fair. For World’s Fair, Masqueray had produced the expo’s central building in a Beaux-Arts style with a main portal similar to that of the French Catedral de Périgueux. The only surviving building from the 1904 World’s Fair is Cass Gilbert’s Art Building (now the Saint Louis Art Museum) as most of Masqueray’s were temporary buildings. Temporary or not, his work gained him Cass Gilbert’s respect and ultimately the job of designing the his first church for John Ireland the Church of St Mary in 1904.
Ireland got lucky with the land for St Mary’s Church in Minneapolis Mr. L. S. Donaldson, who was an Immaculate Conception parish member, donated $45,000 of land next to Loring Park for the church in 1905. Construction from 1907-1915 with the 1st mass in 1914 and in 1926 St Mary’s became the 1 Basilica in the United States. When it came down to the Cathedral of St Paul Ireland was confused and turned down the chance to buy land on St Anthony’s Hill for build near Midway instead. Luckily he re-thought the deal and came back to the current Cathedral location and former farm of Shelby. The construction was fast tracked in 1906 when John Cochran who live next door and opposed the Cathedral died. Cochran had a huge distaste for Ireland, not because he was Protestant, but because Ireland converted his daughter to Catholicism against his wished. Ireland was able to acquire the land from Cochran’s wife and it now serves as the Church parking lot.
By 1907 they were ready to lay the cornerstone on the Cathedral and it’s said that as many was 60,000 people attended. The 1st service was on Palm Sunday in 1915 even though the inside wasn’t all the way done yet, but was attended by 7,500. The designer died in 1917 with most of the work done but only 3 of the interior chapels done. Ireland died the next year and it wasn’t until the 1950s that the final projects were actually finished. Cathedral finally concentrated in 1958. In 2009 the Vatican declared the Cathedral the National Shrine of the Apostle Paul.