When Australian friends Lynette & Robert visited us in St. Louis, Ruth & I took them to The Cathedral Basilica. After that, Robert was driven to go to the top of the Arch, which is another story for another day, but Lynette’s only goal was to return to what St. Louisans still call The New Cathedral even though TCB celebrates its 100th birthday next year. Ruth completely understood Lynette’s fixation and made that possible.
Cathedral Basilica is spectacular. It’s also an underrated St. Louis attraction. Visitors to my hometown usually flock to its free zoo, Anheuser-Busch Brewery, and, of course, The Gateway Arch, but they’re less likely to find The New Cathedral on Lindell Boulevard. explorestlouis.com doesn’t even put it in its top 10 when it should be in the top 3.
We stopped in twice on our recent trip to St. Louis. During the 2nd visit we took a guided tour with Ray, knowledgeable volunteer guide. Our group, which like the biblical loaves and fishes doubled as we toured, learned that Cathedral Basilica is “one of the largest building presentations of mosaics in the world.” I told him that I thought it was the largest mosaic interior in the world. He said it very well might be but that no one has actually measured to confirm.
What is documented is that over a period of 75 years 20 artists used 41,500,000 tesserae tiles of more than 8,000 colors to cover 83,000 square feet to create what Pope Paul VI called, “the outstanding cathedral of the Americas.”
The vestibule depicts scenes from the life of Crusader/King St Louis IX, France’s only canonized monarch. Fit for a king, CB’s entry artists used 23 carat gold among their materials to craft 10 Byzantine masterpieces like the one above.
While many styles were used, a lot of the rest of the interior mosaics are Romanesque. Tiffany and Company decorated one of the 4 not-to-be-missed side altars in a very warm, natural Italian style. Tiffany also installed the rose window that elicits gasps when visitors near the main altar turn and see it for the 1st time.
The last installed mosaic occurred only 4 years ago–Sacred Heart of Jesus, a relatively small portrait that’s unusual because its subject is actually holding the heart in his hands.
You can’t miss the altar–14 solid marble columns, etc.– but you might not see the excellent 1934 bronze cast on Michelangelo’s Pieta unless your guide takes you to it or you search independently. On loan to TCB, it was made in Florence, Italy, #8 of 12 cast. There’s a Mosaics Museum in TCB’s basement.
I learned from Ray that only a Pope can grant a cathedral the name basilica. That honor was bestowed by beloved Pope John Paul the 23rd when he visited The New Cathedral in 1999. The event is recorded on a commemorative plaque and talked about as if it was yesterday.