SE Minnesota and SW Wisconsin
Friday 15 July
Leaving my Minneapolis hotel while following Garmin’s instructions took me over the Mississippi twice, touching in St Paul briefly, before I finally started heading south to Rochester. One hundred miles to the city most famous for the Mayo Clinic, I was able to get into cathedral parking while surrounded by clinics and doctor’s offices at the Co-cathedral of St John the Evangelist.
A newer structure with a modern design, the sandstone-colored building was all sharp right angles, save the bowed chapel closest to the street. Apparently the nave had been reoriented when the rear open space had been added, so that the adoration chapel houses the tabernacle, and behind its interior wall, the main altar and sloped auditorium fills the church. A three-bell tower topped by a cross is placed over where the altar rests.
Entering from the social space, an abstract pair of double squares that form eight-point stars hang over the baptismal font and holy water source with hanging triads of aqua glass tetrahedrons suspended from these stars. Natural light enters from the strips of stained-glass that fill the top three-feet of the side walls. Wooden pews, separated by a center and a side aisle, flow down the slight incline of polished stone floor to the altar table. At the altar, the crucified Christ hangs in front of a circular glass artwork above the glass “window” to view the tabernacle. The organ, its pipes and choir stall to the right, the wood cathedra, backed by etched glass, to the left. The Stations, carved wood bas relief, line the nave walls at eye level.
The stained-glass windows, seemingly abstract at first viewing, reveal the story of the patron apostle. The eight-pointed star repeats on the floor below the striking chandelier, bringing a focus upon entering the nave. Behind the altar’s wall, in the chapel, a smaller bay of chairs in a half circle offer space for a more intimate service. While I there, a group of young men came through with a chaplain to pray in the adoration space. I would label the consistently used wood as blond, like maple, which melded with the sandstone of the walls but worked with the terrazzo floor.
Exiting this extremely comfortable and welcoming space, I took my shots of the exterior, which I found less interesting. Having programmed my next destination, I drove towards the main entrance to the Mayo Clinic before heading a second hundred miles to the northeast.
My perception of that two-plus hour ride was that it seemed to take forever, with lots of zigzagging on state and county roads. Minnesota 63 took me to Lake City and Lake Pepin, birthplace of waterskiing and a rather big body of water. Eventually I arrived in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
Christ Church Cathedral sits on the busy corner of Farwell and Lake Streets. With simplified neo-gothic lines for the church, there is a modern exposed belltower set in front of the Episcopal Diocese office. Entry is from the side street or the opposite social hall, I was near the sanctuary, looking back to a splendid stained-glass window of the Nativity receiving northeast sunlight. The vault has exposed dark beams in a shallow bow, resembling an inverted riverboat.
Tall wainscotting fills the walls of the quire, a slightly darker wood that the choir stalls. The altar reredos is carved white stone with a white-robed Resurrected Christ featured in the window above. Many of the nave windows featured stories from the New Testament with Christ in red robes. The rood shows a wood carving of a clothed and crowned Christ with arms spread wide before a cross. To the side, there is a small chapel with an altar, its modestly carved wooden reredos and a few short pews under a stenciled ceiling. As I left through the opposite side, I passed an exquisite carving of the Last Supper, as well as a shadowbox with the first bishop’s festive vestments. My notes state I felt this was truly one of those hidden gems, and the office staff was friendly.
I found downtown Eau Claire to be briefly interesting. I snapped a shot of the court house, but I’d been on the road four hours (or more) and headed to the Super 8 motel. After settling in, I decided to have late lunch / early dinner and drove across the Chippewa River to the Eau Claire Ale House. With six beers on tap, I opted for the Earth Rider Allouez, an amber. My server and I discussed how to pronounce Allouez, which is the name of the town near Green Bay where the ale is brewed, but its heritage is the name of a seventeenth century French Jesuit missionary and explorer. [I’d bet that the Old French and Wisconsin pronunciations are remarkably different.] To eat, pan-fried walleye with coleslaw, garlic parmesan fries and a roll. The fish was good, but the fries were topped with an orange-yellow sauce which was yummy, enough so that I asked after it to find it comes in a gallon jug from Sauce Craft.
Reading emails while dining, I had a second ale to allow my eyes to adjust a bit before the short drive back. Once back at the motel, it proved to be noisy as there was a music festival in town that weekend. I read until eleven, getting an almost decent rest.
Saturday 16 July
Returning to visit my eighth and last cathedral in Minnesota, the drive started out well, heading straight south along Wisconsin 93 to Bentonville, and then west on WI-35 to cross the Mississippi River. About 5 miles before the turn to state road 54 and the bridge, an obstructive construction block left me with no detour instructions. I tried both navigators with little success. Luckily, stopped out in front of a home, I was offered the option to follow them on their way to a lawn mowing job in Winona. Multiple county roads (B, P, L) that changed about every mile, I was finally looking at the bridge (and they could speed off.) More like 65 miles to the projected 50 for this leg.
The Cathedral of Sacred Heart is the co-cathedral to St John’s in Rochester. Street roads were being “maintained”, but I arrived to find the yellow brick church open. As in Rochester, the altar’s location had been flipped to the western end, so coming into the space from the side door in the rear narthex gave me a view of the tabernacle. The loft, with the organ pipes, was over the narthex, thus behind the altar. The bright nave, with a white ceiling and blond wood beams seemed a contrast to the dour plainness of the exterior. The nicely carved altar table is set forward from the back wall, which has two spaces – one for the cathedra, the other for the celebrant’s seating – on either side of the tabernacle. The crucifix is offset to the left side, near the bishop’s throne.
The big stained-glass window in the loft and above the altar honors a crowned and red-robed Christ the King in shades of blue. The other windows in the nave continued this color scheme, with 12 panels (3 across, 4 high) where red was featured in the center 2 panels. A rose window sits above the small chapel altar to the Sacred Heart. At the (east) entry into the nave, steps lead down into a large full-immersion baptistry. In the foyer, a large pot with holy water greets communicants, reached by climbing stairs from the multi-level east narthex space. A stunningly brilliant multi-colored modern stained-glass window of the patron knocked my socks off.
Following the river to the southeast along US-14, I crossed back into Wisconsin after 30 miles of only minor bits of construction into La Crosse. The Cathedral of St Joseph the Workman stands out in this small city. On a north-south orientation, the central spire rises another 6 stories above the 4 of the church body, in a soft gray-white stone. Door at the front were unlocked, and the view from the back of the nave of the golden glow of the underlit vault of pointed arches drew my eyes to the shorter pointed arches over the sanctuary. Light came in from the tall single panels of stained-glass between each column, and the nine small windows portraying fish swimming towards the altar in the clerestory level. Above the etched glass doors to the entry, there were organ pipes in the loft, as well as a smaller set placed on the loft’s edge.
The main altar table is placed up four steps of the predella, with a Christ crucified and an umbrella-like canopy hanging above. An ambulatory allows access to walk around the altar, in back of the wooden choir stalls that line the sanctuary’s sides. There is a small Presence chapel, with an intricate gold-leaf ceiling and somber lighting.
In the undercroft, the ceiling has delightful stenciling, and the decorative theme seems to be more classic Eastern icons. The stations here are mosaic, the reredos behind the altar is a three-panel scene of angles worshipping the Holy Family. Various contemporary artwork hung on these walls, honoring the patron. When I returned to the nave, I relaxed, taking some time to journal my day so far. I was approached by a parishioner who recommended that I include a visit to the shrine outside town, so I added that to my afternoon.
After telling Garmin, I made the 7-mile detour to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Situated near the end of a dead end turn off US-14, it is a beautifully landscaped setting on a hillside. Well-manicured beds of flowers led to the welcome center, where I picked up a guide sheet and began my ascent. First stop was the Votive House, where a pyramid of burning 7-day candles in the shape of a pyramid. Outdoor shrines with statues for both St Kateri Tekakwitha and Saint Joseph the Workman provided sunny breaks as I strolled the pathway through a deciduous forest.
In a Romanesque-style, apparently windowless, the structure and tall belltower with external walls is faced with cut natural stones. Three doorways allow entry. Entering, I was surprised and amazed at the opulence and majesty of the space. Its ornateness was very much like the big cathedrals in the Twin Cities, with sturdy square columns and rounded arches, decorative features in the capitols and moldings. At the crossing, a high dome with lantern windows provided natural light. Further down the main aisle was a baldachin over the altar, with the image of the patroness on the curved wall behind.
The transepts provided shrines for the Sacred Heart of Mary, and opposite, the Sacred Heart of Jesus. A smaller shrine is for her spouse Joseph, depicted with the child Jesus. Along the nave walls, with three on each side, are large paintings of contemporary saints, patrons of those in need. (St Peregrine for cancer got a prayer from me.) Another smaller shrine depicts Juan Diego with the image of Mary on his cloak. Off to the left of the altar, I noticed a carved wooden seat with a shield. Asking, I determine that it is the seat for the cardinal, not a cathedra, as this is a non-diocesan church.
Back outside, the pathway continues to zigzag gently up the slope, offering first an outside Stations of the Cross, and then the Path of the Rosary. To the side is a shrine to children, with a bronze statue of an angel with 3 youngsters. As I had traveled through seven states, the Right to Life issue, championed by the Roman Catholic Church, had been ever evident, and this shrine fit neatly into that political campaign.
At the foot of the walk, I spent a small amount of time in the bookstore. A wall of icons attracted my eye, reminiscent of my visit to the Orthodox Monastery I’d visited outside Boston. Not needing any religious items, I returned to my car and continued along US-14/61 about 120 miles south until I cross the Mississippi again into Iowa. I had to fuel the car along the way, but found a station just under $4 per gallon. Two hours of slowing through small towns, the terrain was hilly, counter to my expectations.