Saturday, July 8, 2006

St. Peter's Cathedral

St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Cathedral is the largest cathedral in Illinois and serves the people of Belleville and the Catholic Diocese of Belleville, which includes all of southern Illinois. In 1842 a parish was established on a location to the east of the present cathedral that was named St. Barnabas the Apostle, the name being changed five years later to the Church of St. Peter. In 1863 a new, larger brick church was built on the present site to accommodate the rapidly growing parish. In 1887 this church became St. Peter’s Cathedral and seat of the new Diocese of Belleville and was nearly destroyed by fire in 1912 with only the exterior brick walls remaining. The present cathedral was modeled in the English Gothic style after the Cathedral of Exeter, one of the smaller but more beautiful cathedrals in England. In 1956 the brick walls were refaced with Winona splitface dolomite and trimmed with Indiana limestone. In 1966 St. Peter’s Cathedral underwent a major renovation of the sanctuary and saw the addition of the south end of the Cathedral bringing its seating capacity to its present 1,270 people.Gothic architecture characterizes any of the styles of medieval European architecture, in particular those associated with cathedrals and churches, developed between the 12th and 14th centuries. The Gothic style originated at the abbey church of Saint-Denis near Paris by the Abbot Suger who wanted to create a physical representation of Heavenly Jerusalem. This style emphasizes verticality and features almost skeletal stone structures with sharply pointed spires, cluster columns, ribbed vaults, pointed arches using the ogive (S) shape, and sculptural detail. The focus of these features were large stained glass windows that allowed more light to enter than was possible with earlier architectural styles. In order to achieve this, flying buttresses were used to enable high vaulted ceilings and slender columns by preventing the walls from leaning outwards from the pressure of the vaults and causing the structure to collapse. The architectural concept of the Gothic cathedral with its loftiness and huge dimensions was to convey the theological message of the great glory of God versus the smallness and insignificance of man. St. Peter’s Cathedral is an excellent place to view an example of Gothic architecture in the St. Louis area and brochures for self guided tours of the Cathedral can be found at the front entrance. The Cathedral is rich with sculpture and stained glass (photo above) and notable features include the north nave and baptistery, the Marian Shrine, the south nave, and the sanctuary area.

See also: Mr. Cusack, Mr. Abeln of St. Louis