The Basilica of Saint Mary
July 22, 2017
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The Basilica of Saint Mary
We are located on Hennepin Avenue between 16th & 17th Streets in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Phone: 612.333.1381
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Recent Publications
· Weekly Newsletter
  January 16, 2014
· Parish Bulletin
  December 27, 2013
· BASILICA Magazine
  December 6, 2013
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Friday of week 15 in Ordinary Time, or...


America's First Basilica Is Named

The decade of the 1920s: Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Langston Hughes, the Harlem Renaissance, Charles Lindbergh's first transatlantic flight, Prohibition, and the stock market crash of October 1929. These are just a few of the lively stories of the decade.

For the Pro-Cathedral of Minneapolis, the decade was a grand one; it started with the appointment of James M. Reardon in August of 1921 to be pastor of the Pro-Cathedral. His tenure lasted for more than forty years. A writer and historian, he also dictated the design and finishes for the Pro-Cathedral's unfinished interior, to be completed during this first decade of his pastorate. Reading parts of Monsignor Reardon's history of the Basilica of Saint Mary is at times like reading poetry; he had a grand way with the language. Just after his appointment as pastor, Monsignor Reardon wrote of the yet unfinished interior: "The stately grandeur of its imposing exterior postulated an interior loveliness unsurpassed by anything in the land."

And so the decisions to create the finest altar in America, a new pulpit, and a sanctuary enclosed by wrought iron grille were made. Stained glass windows were installed, an organ was ordered, the ceiling of the nave was decorated. All reflect the finest materials and workmanship available.

The marble altar and baldachin were designed by Boston architects Maginnis & Walsh, and handcrafted at the Benziger Brothers Studios in Pietrasanta, Italy. The elaborate wrought iron grille surrounding the sanctuary was fabricated by Flour City Ornamental Iron Company of Minneapolis. It too contains symbols and stories of the life of Mary. The marble for the pillars supporting the grillwork was imported from Italy. The sculptures of the Twelve Apostles surrounding the top of the grille are exact replicas in half scale of those in St. John Lateran in Rome, the major basilica with which this one is affiliated.

In his history of the Basilica, Monsignor Reardon describes his vision for the altar: "In finishing the church the major problem was, of course, the main altar. On its solution every thing else depended; for the altar would give meaning and tone to all the rest... For that, the finest marble that money could procure must be available, and the most skillful sculptors commissioned to chisel it into life... The altar must be one of the finest in America in material, design and workmanship."

The Basilica windows were designed and produced in the 1920s by Thomas Gaytee of Gaytee Studios, Minneapolis. Gaytee said the windows represented some of his best work.

The twenty clerestory, or upper, windows that line the nave and the three rose windows depict major events in Mary's life. The dome contains twelve grisaille windows containing symbols of the Virgin Mary in medallion form. Colors of the Virgin Mary are white for purity, blue for truth, red for love, and gold for glory.

© Building the baldachin »
The high alter and baldachin, its permanent ornamental canopy, were designed by the firm of McGinnis and Walsh of Boston. – Basilica archives [Close]

In 1926 the Pro-Cathedral was raised to the rank of a minor Basilica. It was the first basilica to be designated in the nation and its name became the Basilica of Saint Mary of Minneapolis. A coat of arms identifies it. The pavilion, a half-opened umbrella, is a traditional symbol for a basilica; the crescent moon symbolizes Mary as the Immaculate Conception; the crenellated form, resembling the top of a castle, stands for a city; and the wavy lines represent water. Thus the coat of arms reads, "The Basilica of Saint Mary in the City of Water (Minneapolis)."

In April 1928 a new residence for the clergy and the sacristy were blessed. On March 26, 1929, the only requiem Mass in the United States for Marshal Foch, Gener-alissimo of the Allied forces in World War I, was held at the Basilica; more than four thousand persons attended.

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