Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 23, 2003
In search of St. Peter
Skilled Minnesota craftsmen created this frame cathedral
Sts. Peter and Paul -- Feast Day -- June 29
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
To enjoy a spectacular display of church art and a crash course in the lives of saints, stop at the colourful Cathedral of St. Peter at Muenster just east of Saskatoon. Take a tour and learn from a most-knowledgeable guide the story of artist Berthold Imhoff and his dozens of holy images.
Some wonder how a cathedral can exist almost alone in a rural setting outside of the tiny town of Muenster (pop. 454) and some distance from St. Peter's Abbey. It's a story of early settlers and dedication to their faith.
In 1902, the St. Peter's Colony was established by Benedictine priest Bruno Doerfler and named to honour Rt. Rev. Peter Engel, abbot of St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minn., its sponsor. German Catholic settlers from that area, joined by others from Germany and Ukraine, soon set up the post office of Muenster (monastery) and incorporated the village in 1908.
A nearby monastery, established in 1903, expanded with time, was elevated to the status of an abbey eight years later and in 1921 was declared an abbey nullius which gave the abbot the status of a bishop.
Namesake of the abbey and the cathedral, Peter was the pre-eminent apostle, acknowledged leader of Christ's disciples, and the first pope. He was the first to state unequivocally that he believed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God (Matthew 16:16) and disclosed his humanity by his famous triple denial during Jesus' trial. He features prominently in the Acts, leading the new church in Jerusalem and shares his June 29 feast day with that other great early Church leader, Paul.
Muenster's church of St. Peter was built in 1908-10 by skilled craftsmen from Minnesota with volunteer labour. First pastor was the prior of the abbey, Father Doerfler. The magnificent interior decoration was done by Count Berthold Imhoff in 1919 and in 1921, the building became a cathedral. It's an attractive white, wood-frame structure, 40 metres long with twin 20-metre towers.
In 1998, the cathedral became part of the Diocese of Saskatoon. It survived structural problems and after major repairs in 1971 and 1985, was declared a provincial historic site, attracting some 4,000 visitors annually. On May 21 of this year, the nearby abbey celebrated its centennial.
In the sanctuary, behind a huge Roman arch with the words "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church" in German, nine panels ("arches") contain 60 saints' images.
Many visitors to St. Peter's come to admire the paintings by Imhoff, born in Germany in 1866 but, after 1914, a resident of St. Walburg, Sask. He decorated more than 112 buildings in North America with religious themes, including several in his adopted province. Many of his paintings are now exhibited in museums in St. Walburg and Lloydminster. In 1937, two years before his death, he was honoured by Pope Pius XI for his dedication to Church art.
A joy to behold, the church's interior is covered with images of Christ, Mary and the saints. In the sanctuary, behind a huge Roman arch with the words "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church" in German, nine panels ("arches") contain 60 saints' images. All of those portrayed have some connection with the church or abbey, thus the centre arch includes Sts. Benedict and Bruno, as well as the Immaculate Conception and the church's patron, Peter. Your guide will share an intimate knowledge of all the saints' lives, their reason for appearing here and which of the abbey monks provided models for Imhoff.
St. Peter's Cathedral is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. from March 1 to Dec. 31 and 9 a.m. to sunset in winter months. Tours are offered 1 to 4 p.m.