Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Minnesota 2015 - St. Paul Cathedral

I had two requests during the time I was to be in Minneapolis. One was a visit to the Institute of Art, check, the second seeing the cathedral in St. Paul, highly regarded for it's exterior and interior beauty. Heading towards St. Paul we pass a restaurant we have driven by several times prior called "Rusty Taco". My nephew insists the food is quite good and the name is derived from the establishments humble beginnings as a food truck. Their good reputation notwithstanding I felt they may have wanted to consult with marketing experts. I, given their present name, would hesitate to dine there.

The cathedral sits on a bluff overlooking St. Paul's downtown. It's placement as well as it's massive size would make it visible to much of the city, a constant symbol of the dominance of the church over the lives of the people of St. Paul during the early part of the 20th century. Or, taking a different viewpoint, if you are a city named after a saint it makes sense that your cathedral should be impressive, in this case verging on imposing.

I have visited many houses of worship in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Europe. Many are places of astounding man made splendor created and decorated by some of the greatest artists in history. Yet, as I admire the beauty of these, to some people, sacred places, I find myself questioning the magnificence of them. What if the money and energy put into a church had instead been put into the work of the church? While awed I remember finding the Vatican, with it's extreme display of material wealth, offensive. The bible tells us Jesus was committed to serving the poor. He set an example by living a simple life eschewing the trappings of other religious figures of the time. I fear that over the course of 2000 years many religious leaders have, through their pursuit and acquisition of money and power, turned their backs on the teachings they profess to follow.

The cathedral, built in 1915, is an interesting mixture of a classic style with distinct Arts and Crafts influences. A wrought iron chandelier would seem equally in place in it's present surroundings as it would in a prairie style structure. Molding is at one time simple and stripped down, in the early 20th century style, yet opulent. The most visually impressive feature, to my eye, are the leaded glass windows, again showing the influence of an Arts and Crafts sensibility. In the Shrines of the Nations folds in the cloth of the costumes worn by the biblical figures are delineated by a plethora of colors held within the confines of lead outlines. In some of the glass panels shades mix, changing from one hue to another within a single pane. Silver pieces with gild overlay, gifts to the church from wealthy parishioners, decorate the altar. Here again I think of what could have been done for people with the money spent on these lavish offerings. Downstairs in the visitors center a stunning 16th century carved wood lintel is displayed, rather oddly as my nephew noted, over the door leading to the elevator.

Leaving the cathedral my nephew directed us through streets lined with the grand turn of the century homes of St. Paul's gentry. The structures were beautiful, massive verging on intimidating. It was wonderful to see such a sizable intact area from that era. Too often in American cities we have been neglectful in preserving, protecting and respecting our architectural history.

We placate the grandniece with a trip to an ice creme shop which I am told is well known in the area. As I do last minute packing the next morning she begins to reclaim her room. Sitting on the top bunk, swinging her legs, she tells me about a dream she had the night before. "I dreamed that you didn't have to leave, that you lived in the house next door." She elicits a promise from me to take care of the heart necklace she had gifted to me on my first day with her. "It will remind you of me", she states. I, in turn, promise to send her a photo of it, hanging with my other necklaces, when I get home. I cherish her sweet, tight hug as she, my sister in law and niece drop me off at the airport. 

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