Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Two Basilicas

The beautiful Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis welcomes visitors to view the largest collection of mosaic art in the world. Pope Paul VI called the structure "the outstanding cathedral of the Americas." Designated a basilica in 1997, the cathedral was built in the city's Central West End neighborhood between 1907 and 1909. Its glittering green dome is a prominent feature of the St. Louis skyline and its vast and detailed interior mosaics cover 83,000 square feet and took nearly 80 years to complete. The mosaics of the main church and the vestibule were installed by a father and son who used more than 41 million pieces of tile in over 7,000 colors to create their art. On the lower level of the cathedral, the Mosaic Museum traces the construction of the facility and the installation of the tiles to create the art.

When St. Louis was founded by French fur traders in 1764, one of the first buildings constructed in the infant town was a church. Built on the site of that first church in 1834, the Old Cathedral, known officially as the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France, sits near the base of the Gateway Arch on land that is now part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Inside the Old Cathedral Museum, visitors can see pieces of St. Louis' early history including the original church bell, religious art from the late 1700s, and the tomb of Bishop Joseph Rosati, builder of the Old Cathedral. From 1826 to 1843, the St. Louis diocese, headquartered at the Old Cathedral, covered nearly half of America, from Louisiana north to Michigan, from Kentucky west to Oregon and from the state of Washington along the Canadian border to the Great Lakes. Pope John XXIII decreed the church a basilica in 1961.