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Cathedrals of Saint Louis, Missouri

Updated: Nov 20, 2019

About 6 weeks after returning from my two months in Britain, I realized my feet were getting itchy for another trip this year. An email feed from our local airport (Sarasota SRQ) highlights where flights might take me at low cost. Popping up my map of locations of cathedrals I have yet to visit, and comparing it to the SRQ list, I selected #SaintLouis, Missouri. Cheap fares were for Veteran’s Weekend, so I booked a long weekend (5 days, 4 nights).

With my overseas stay booked through Expedia’s, I had accumulated 3 “free” nights. I was bound and determined to use them this time, as they expire after a year, and the one’s I’d earned in Spain had been lost. I’d hoped to spend 2 nights in St Louis (yes, the older natives insist in spelling out Saint, but I’ve done it once, and almost everyone else uses that abbreviation.) No go – I could only book (affordably) my first night. So I looked at my cathedral list in eastern Missouri and western Illinois, and my second night was to be Quincy, IL; the third in Belleville, IL (across the Mississippi from St Louis); and last night in Springfield, MO. My big driving days would be the two in the middle, as I’d visit Peoria and Springfield, IL out of Quincy, and Cape Girardeau between Belleville and my second Springfield. Probably about 1100 miles to put on a Budget rental.

After communicating with a number of cathedral offices via email, I was fairly comfortable that I’d be able to get inside most of them to get pictures. One would be holding a wedding, another just unstaffed on a Saturday, but most I’d should manage to slip into to view and pray. Checking with Nancy, my driver for my airport runs, I probably used up all my good will from pulling her weeds with a 6am departure and midnight return, but at least it wasn’t Tampa!

Ø 7 November: Saint Louis

More photos from my time in Saint Louis can be found here.

Very early Thursday morning I was up, cleaned and dressed, waiting for the call from the gate to let Nancy in. We were off in a flash, and riding up the Interstate, getting me to the airport an hour ahead of departure. No bag check, TSA Precheck bypass, and I was chilling for 20 minutes until boarding. The Delta flight to Atlanta was a tad early, and I was strongly blessed with my departing gate being almost directly across from my arriving gate. Again, an easy flight and on time arrival. BTW, I almost always bring treats for the crew. Neighbors in California who were flight attendants taught me that. So my box of four birthday truffles from Bonefish Grille went to the two on the first leg, and a bag of Trader Joes Dark Chocolate Nutty Bits for the four on the longer leg. Both staffs were very appreciative.

Rolling off the jet, I walked downstairs and out to the curb for a shuttle to pick up my rental. Budget/Avis took a bit, and it was much cooler than the 80’s I’d been experiencing in Florida. The agent tried to upsell me on a larger car, and buy insurance, but I didn’t really need either. Out into the lot and it was a dark gray Kia Soul. I plugged in my Garmin, gave it the address of a downtown cathedral, and it proceeded to confuse the heck out of me and the car before I finally got pointed in the right direction.

Well, Garmin was a little unclear and delayed in getting me off the Interstate, so I took a beautiful new suspension bridge across the Mississippi before turning around and returning to downtown St Louis. Garmin took me by Christ Church Cathedral and I was too uncertain to try street parking, so pulled into a parking lot, to part with $10. I walked back past the City Library, a gift of Andrew Carnegie, a rather impressive building. With a single tower on the corner, the cathedral’s front entrance was locked when I arrived, so I had to use a door down Locust Street. Checking in with a guard and walking past scaffolding and workers, I was able to enter the church proper.

Christ Church Cathedral, Saint Louis, Missouri

My entry put me to the side of the sanctuary and altar. A stunning carved reredos in white Beer stone (from near Exeter, England) occupies the back wall of the raised east end. (A wall-mounted photo indicated the reredos was inspired by the reredos at St Albans.) The 52 statues of saints are set on either side of a crucified Christ, above a bas relief of the Nativity. Colorful banners representing what I guess are parishes in the diocese hung below the clerestory windows above the arches of the side aisles. At the ends of the transepts hung the old organ screens, as the organ had been moved from the quire to the rear loft. Standing smaller pipes decorated the front of the keyboard space, while the larger chrome pipes stood tall behind baffles in front of the 7 lights of stained glass. An English horn pipe, supposedly rather loud, is hidden behind the reredos.

The prior weekend the cathedral had celebrated its two hundredth anniversary as a parish in St. Louis. A smaller building, it felt warm and welcoming in spite of the construction noise coming through the chancel door.

To the left of the main altar, against the wall, was a canopied set of three seats carved (in place!) out of white stone: the center, with the spire and kneeler, is the cathedra. Opposite, a much more comfortable looking wooden seat for the celebrant. I was particularly intrigued by the sculpture series on the movable pulpit (lectern) – with the many figures of iron? Two street persons had established their spaces in the nave, keeping the church occupied. I was advised that the Thursday afternoon organ recital would be at 12:30, so I planned on returning.

The main drag through downtown St Louis is Tucker Boulevard, which was the next corner toward the river. Walking south on Tucker, I passed the law school, and then several court buildings, each of which looked like WPA projects. After walking past City Hall, I crossed Tucker and continued walking an overpass, looking down on extensive railyards, as well as the Busch Stadium outer walls. On the far side, the headquarters of Nestlé Purina sat between the tracks and Highway 66. Two and a half blocks east granted me access to the campus of the Maronite Catholic Center and St Raymond Maronite Cathedral. A low-lying broad building with a golden dome, an outdoor belfry displayed two bells.

St Raymond Maronite Cathedral, Saint Louis, Missouri

The building was locked, so I took pictures outside before venturing to what appeared to be an office. As I readied to ring the bell, a gentleman was exiting, and after asking my intentions, offered to let me into the building to take some pictures. The inside of the dome is a clean white space, and fixed pews face the altar set out in front of the eastern wall, where the wooden cathedra is positioned. Two smaller side altars bracket the main space, one to the Virgin, the other to St Nicholas. A very intriguing tabernacle sits between the Lady altar and the bishop’s throne.

Leaving, I noted artwork commemorating a cedar of Lebanon, the origins of the Maronite Catholic sect. I was told there are three cathedrals in the United States, in Brooklyn (which I’ve visited) and Los Angeles. I told my guide I’d been to one other, but drew a blank immediately when trying to recall where; as I left the campus, I remembered it had been in Mexico City. Their bishops are appointed by and are subservient to Rome.

Walking back, I spotted a building, now being used for public storage, with a stone sign for Endicott-Johnson Shoes. I remember being told that at one time, the leather from the slaughtered cattle had been used by multiple manufacturers who provided most of the country’s shoes. Returning to Christ Church, I approached from the south, passing the War Memorial Building. Entering from the front, I took a seat with a “regular” and we chatted together until the visiting organist began to play. The half hour program included a voluntary by John Stanley, a piece by Jehan Alain and three works by JS Bach.

Exiting, I decided to retrieve my car to drive closer to the Gateway Arch National Park, and the former Catholic cathedral building. Passing the main library, I popped in to use the facilities and marvel at the modern facility. Outside, the base of the brass street lamps were supported by four small snapping turtles (also in bronze) – an interesting feature.

Approaching the river, the Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France sits close to the Arch, with a good size parking lot in front. Signs indicate the lot is to be used by attendees of Mass, but I figured to use while visiting the former (1818-1914) cathedral itself. With four external double-story columns and a single clock tower, it is about the same size as Christ Church. Fixed wooden pews are separated by side and a center aisle, with thick columns supporting the bowed ornate paneled ceiling. The organ loft sits above the pews at the south entrance.

Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France, Saint Louis, Missouri

The stenciling and plaster work, enhanced by good color choices for paint, created a superb venue for any service or ceremony. Plus it had great parking and access to the riverfront park.

Opposite, on the north wall behind the high altar is a painting of a crucified Christ. To its left is a canopied throne, the cathedra of the former cathedral (unusual for it to still be there, in my experience.) The side altar on the right was dedicated to St Louis, Louis IX of France. Exiting the church, I got a few more outside pictures of the basilica, as well as a few of the Arch. I moved my car to a public parking garage and walked to the National Park entrance. This took me past the old courthouse, where the Dred Scott decision had been deliberated and handed down in 1857.

Walking down a slight slope to a large circular plaza in front of the #GatewayArch Park entry. Cut so that the museum, shop, theater and tour are all below the ground at the base of the park and Arch. Possessing two Senior Passes from the National Parks Service (a long story), I presented one at the welcome counter when I purchased admission, the movie, and the trip to the top of the Arch. Scheduled tightly, I headed directly to the theater where an excellent documentary (in color) related the story of the timeline for building the Arch and how engineering challenges were met. Of particular note is the fact that no lives were lost during the construction progress!

With about 10 minutes before I would be able to climb into a “car” to take me to the top via the south side of the Arch, I wandered into the store. Loaded with many, many souvenirs, I was faced with four choices for a hat pin, and selected a silver-colored pin with the Arch superimposed over the image of the courthouse. Then entering the stairwell, I was directed to car #1 at the bottom of the stairs, where I was joined by a younger couple from southern California. Car capacity is about 5, maybe 6, is shaped like a hockey puck, with a window through the door. Eight cars are pulled up to the top, behaving as an elevator, a trolley and an escalator. The car rotates as it moves through hollow insides of the Arch.

Six hundred thirty feet up, small rectangular glass windows mounted at an angle allow visitors to view out across Missouri, or across the Mississippi and Illinois. The visitor area is arched, reached again by stairs similar to those at the base. During season, groups arrive from both sides, but the north access was closed when I visited, so the space wasn’t too crowded. I got aerial shots of the downtown basilica, the old courthouse, Busch Stadium and Enterprise center (sports venues), as well as downtown, and the reaches out to the horizon.

When I descended, after about 50 minutes, I walked through the museum enriching my knowledge with the information on the displays and dioramas. Out to the street, I collected my car after walking past several dining venues – all appeared too touristy for me. Twelve dollars lighter, I had Garmin take me out to the Central West End Bed and Breakfast. For once, directions were timely and accurate, and didn’t try to take me the wrong way down one-way streets.

Central West End is the district name of Saint Louis which includes the cathedral I planned on visiting the following morning. The B&B is a red brick, three story building on a large lot on a rise off Washington Avenue. Ten plus years ago, a couple had purchased a run-down house and renovated it as a bed and breakfast. After pulling of the street into the parking area, I climbed a few steps and entered a foyer. No one in the office, I peered through a partially opened door to a gentleman leaning on what appeared to be a bar, and asked for assistance. An owner was downstairs, not feeling well, so dispatch a younger man to bring me up a flight of stairs to my room in the front corner of the second floor. (I’d gotten so used to calling the first level above the ground floor the first floor, it’s taking some retraining.) A dark room, a four-posted bed was opposite the door, a TV display sat on a bureau, and the one window was covered with curtains. The walls were painted a deep purple, which matched the carpet, and the bed cover. It felt like a bordello! Kevin showed me the bathroom down the hall, and advised I was the only guest on that level, so had sole use.

I unzipped my roll-on bag and pulled out several items, and then connected to the WiFi to see about local dining options. I really wanted to walk, but options were limited. Nonetheless, I pulled my jacket back on and went downstairs, checking in again at the “bar” for suggestions, but received little help. I exited, walked along Washington to its quasi-end at Boyle Avenue (continuation was blocked, although the street went on.) Tuning south took me through a bend and finally I saw something other than houses and churches: several commercial spaces, including a theater and a pub. I was hoping for something a bit fancier, so continued past it to the next major thoroughfare.

At Lindell I turned east to return towards the B&B, walking along several strip malls with fast food chains being the only dining options, other than one chichi fish place which looked too upscale for my attire. Arriving at Vandeventer, I recognized the avenue I’d used to get to my lodgings, so I returned to the B&B and collected my car, and drove back to the pub.

Cold and tired, having not eaten all day, I was pleased to be in the West End Grill and Pub. My waitperson was Kim, a chatty and friendly native, who brought me a Six Mile Bridge Irish Red Ale to start, so I could wet my whistle. For an appetizer, I got Shisato peppers with chipotle sauce, finding them to be milder than the Spanish variation I’d enjoyed overseas. I started to waver on my entrée, and Kim realized she hadn’t told me the specials, so I switched to the tuna covered in sesame seeds and grilled, served on a bed of couscous.

Kim continued to check in with me – the early evening must have been slow, as we had lengthy conversations regarding travel, cathedrals and churches. The tuna was delicious, although I had to send a recommendation back to the kitchen to do a better job spreading the cayenne seasoning on the couscous. Kim didn’t recommend any dessert as being special enough, so I headed back to the car, armed with directions to the nearby cathedral.

Turning right at Lindell, I went about a block and a half to the cathedral. A huge building with a dome, I pulled out my phone and took several night shots of the domed church. None turned out to be spectacular, but I gave me enough familiarity to know where to park on my return. Back into the car, I headed to the B&B and polished off a box of M&M peanuts left in the welcome basket as I transferred photos to backup, recharged the phone and camera battery, as well as the near-dead tablet. All this with a minimum of outlets. The heating plant was going full blast as I used the bathroom before retiring, but I don’t think all that forced hot air was heading to the front of the house. Still, I slept well.

Cathedral Basilica of St Louis, Saint Louis, Missouri

Waking about 8, I was up and into the bathroom to prepare for the day. Once dressed and packed, I headed to the breakfast room, where I was served a full breakfast of scrambled eggs with cheese, hash browns, toast, three strips of bacon and juice. I’d advised that I was passing on coffee. Leaving, it was cool outside with sunny skies. I quickly reached the cathedral and parked, taking some outside shots that were much better than my previous night’s shots. I had a reservation for the 10am tour, so I used those few minutes to get pictures from the north and east face before entering from the south.

Larry was our guide, and we were about a dozen. Despite being downsized from a plan which would have made it then the largest church in the world, the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis is one of the largest church building in the western hemisphere. Larry pointed out that all the wall and ceiling surfaces were covered by mosaics, and that no paint had been used. It was consecrated in 1926, and replaced the basilica downtown then. Architecturally and decoratively in the Byzantine style, its central dome is huge, with the exterior a dark green. The north dome is above a baldachin over the high altar. Half domes top the transepts. All surfaces seem to be covered with religious stories or graphic designs.

After concluding the hour tour, I headed to the crypt to visit the tombs of the deceased former (arch)bishops and look at the displays of how the mosaics were constructed, designed and applied. Exiting the cathedral, I crossed Lindell to capture the majesty of the front of the building. Walking around the outside, I climbed back into the Kia and had the Garmin plot my way to Quincy, Illinois and my next two cathedrals that day.

Google album of pictures of my stay in Saint Louis: click here.

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