Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 28, 2005
Cradle of Catholicism evolves
Midwest hub city celebrates its faith-filled roots
St. Louis — August 25
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
St. Louis, Mo.
From the top of the world-famous 210 metre high Gateway Arch, the view is spectacular. To the west, the hub city of St. Louis stretches far into the distance from the banks of the Mississippi River. Dominant though, in the foreground, almost beneath the stainless steel structure, a church reposes in serene solitude, isolated from the urban high-rise jostle.
This, the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France, the Old Cathedral honours the famous 13th century regent and identifies a community noted for its deep Catholic roots.
King of France
Few have not heard of the saintly king of France. He was the namesake and model for several later French sovereigns and is the secondary patron of the Quebec Archdiocese. The regal name is attached to two important basilicas in the historic Midwestern city of St. Louis, Mo.
King Louis IX is usually best known for his involvement in two successful crusades and for the restoration of the famous Ste-Chappelle in Paris to house sacred relics from the Holy Land. But there was much more to this man, patron of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Father of 11 and a devoted family man, he exhibited virtues of manhood, was a devoted son and a dedicated Christian.
Letters to his son and heirs that survive contain detailed advice on how to live as a Christian king. "I am teaching you first of all to love God with all your heart." This man of honour, a leader not reticent about expressing his spirituality in public, reigned for 44 years, consolidating much of his kingdom of France, arbitrating disputes in his realm and seeking justice under the law for all his subjects. The ideal Christian knight, he was canonized in 1297.
Following in the footsteps of early Christian explorers - Father Marquette, Joliet and LaSalle, the area near the junction of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers was settled by French Canadian farmers and traders as early as 1703. Sixty years later, Pierre Liguest Laclede and his 14 year-old assistant, Auguste Choteau, New Orleans traders, claimed land where the Gateway Arch is now situated.
A humble Church of St. Louis of the Illinois was constructed near his trading post.
The present basilica, fourth church on the site, was consecrated in 1834 by its builder, Bishop Rosati and, 100 years later, was the only building spared when 30 city blocks were razed to make way for today's 91-acre riverside park.
The exterior of the basilica displays an impressive portico supported by Doric columns. Inside, similar pillars define the aisles of the surprisingly airy nave. Side chapels dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to St. Joseph contain statues of St. Louis and St. Joan of Arc.
Many religious orders were attracted to this sanctuary over the years and their members went on to make the city a center of Catholic education and western missionary activities.
Despite its appearance as an obvious historic structure, the church supports an active parish life, including the celebration of two daily and four Sunday Masses. Both the basilica and an attached museum of religious articles are open every day.
Visitors to St. Louis will naturally gravitate to the new Catholic Basilica of St. Louis.
That replaced the Old Cathedral. It's the seat of the archdiocese and a spectacular repository of mosaics and tributes to the church patron.
Perhaps, in final homage to the saintly king, some will seek out the heroic equestrian statue of St. Louis the Crusader that guards the noted St. Louis Art Museum in this midwest cradle of Catholicism.