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profile The Basilica of Saint Mary

n the same year Minnesota celebrates its sesquicentennial, America’s first Basilica completes a year long celebration to commemorate 100 years in its current building. The Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis, with such a rich history is more than just a church or a spiritual community…but a group tour destination? Lets get one thing straight right off the bat, because I know you are wondering. What is a Basilica? Is it different from a Cathedral? Is it better than a plain ol’ church? You’ll need to know, since someone on your motorcoach is bound to ask. Without getting too deep into a history lesson, suffice it to say, a basilica is a church that’s been given a special distinction. Architecturally speaking, in pre-Christian times, basilicas were pillared halls used for public assemblies. In Roman times such buildings were plentiful, and so when Emperor Constantine adopted Christianity as the state religion, they were transformed into Christian churches. Liturgically speaking, a basilica is designated by the Pope because of some special importance and has no reference to architectural style, size or antiquity of the church. The title does however bestow certain privileges, such as rank, the right to a coat-of arms, the highest expectations regarding the celebration of the liturgy, and special attention to the education of the faithful, to mention a few. In 1926, the Basilica of Saint Mary was the first church in the United States to receive this honor. In 1967 the Basilica was formally named the Co-Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. Whew! That’s a lot of titles.


Not just a pretty face, the Basilica is also an awe-inspiring destination with a variety of offerings for groups. There is, of course, the actual building, a striking example of

Beaux Arts, a type of Modern Renaissance architecture. Minnesota granite comprises the foundation, which goes deep into the earth in order to support the square dome rising to a height of 187 feet. The church has undergone an extensive restoration, including developing 20,000 square feet of space in the undercroft. I think this is fancy talk for finishing the basement, although when you see it, you’ll know fancy pales against the real splendor of the basilica. There are magnificent stained glass windows, 50 of them! There are Angels… too many to count. The nave is said to be the widest of any church in the world and offers an unobstructed view of the sanctuary and altar. One of its most impressive features is the ceiling, rising from a stone cornice 43 feet above the floor and then forming an ellipse to a height of 75 feet. The five bays of the Basilica ceiling are decorated in plaster sculpture. Since the church is dedicated to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, her distinctive colors, white for purity, blue for truth, gold for glory and red for love, comprise the color schemes of the ceiling and the windows. The art and architecture of the Basilica are replete with references to the Mother of Jesus. It was decided the building should be surrounded by a series of small contemplative spaces to enhance the experience of moving to and from the church. The Mary Garden, dedicated in the year 1997, is the first of these spaces and can be enjoyed by parishioners and public alike as a quiet outdoor expression of Mary.

But not everything on the church grounds is quiet. Every summer for the past 13 years, the Cities 97 Basilica Block Party has entertained young and young at heart at its “party of a higher order”. National and local bands attract about 25,000 people to

The Basilica of Saint Mary. Corner of Hennepin & N 17th Street | Mpls, MN | | Mark Wyss 612-317-3410  ITINERARIES MINNESOTA SUMMER 2008 9


celebrate summer with beer, fair food, and music, designed to raise funds for the ongoing restoration of the building. This years Block Party includes Happy Hour, where the first 1000 people get 2 tickets for food and drink. Tickets can be purchased for one night or two and it’s probably not too early to start making plans to bring your group in 2009. And speaking of music, the church is often times host to a variety of music and concerts. Check the calendar for when the Rose Ensemble performs. This internationally recognized group connects individuals to past worlds through ancient music, instruments, and stories. The Rose Ensemble performs in the Basilica several times throughout the year, including concerts, liturgies, and the Gregorian Vespers series. Whether attending just to listen or take time out of a busy day, all are welcome.

There is an art gallery located in the undercroft of the church. Exhibits are changed approximately every month. New in 2003 was the Lux Eterna, the Basilica store, where you can shop for a variety of sacred art, and high quality gift items. There is also an online option. A labyrinth was recently mowed into the lawn on the grounds adding yet another contemplative space.

There is no way I can do justice to this amazing place in print. I highly encourage you to come experience the beauty of the art and architecture. Learn the stories behind the structures, and meet the people serving and served by this large and diverse community. With membership households including 300 zip codes, and fifty-five percent of parishioners under age 40, one can only imagine that as the Basilica of St Mary invites visitors, there will surely be something of interest for just about any group.

© Rich Colombo

© Rich Colombo

© Rich Colombo

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