The Cathedral and Red Bull
Posted on February 18, 2016
In my home state of Minnesota, one building has omnipresence on the skyline of downtown St. Paul; a building that is possibly the most significant classical work in the upper Midwest – the Cathedral of Saint Paul. This magnificent structure has left an indelible impression on my life and influenced my path as an aspiring architect. The cathedral not only stands as a symbol to the glory of God, which it certainly does and always will, but also marks St. Paul as an important center of civic life in the region.
Emmanuel Louis Masqueray, the architect of the cathedral, was a Frenchman trained at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He had a successful career in the United States and became a well-known architect in the United States during the early 1900’s, most notably as Chief of Design of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri (otherwise known as the 1904 World’s Fair). In additional to providing the master planning for the fair buildings and grounds, he was responsible for designing several structures including the Palaces of Transportation, Horticulture, and Agriculture, and most importantly the Cascades and Colonnade of States.
The Colonnade of States, a monument to the thirteen states and the “Indian Territory” that was carved out of the Louisiana Purchase, representing the success, wisdom and foresight of the historic land acquisition. Forty-five thousand gallons of water a minute flowed from the Cascades into the Grand Basin with the East and West Cascades represented the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and symbolized man’s control over nature. The Colonnade of States and Cascade served as a centerpiece of the fair and flanked both sides of the Palace of Fine Arts – designed by Cass Gilbert, the famous Minnesotan architect, and the only building erected for permanent use after the fair. It is remarkable that Gilbert would go on to build the Minnesota State Capitol building in St. Paul just down the road from the cathedral, for once again, he and Masqueray would design civic structures that became centerpieces of a major city. Gilbert professed, “If the dome of the Cathedral of Saint Paul and that of the new State Capitol were part of the skyline of a city in Europe, they would be world famous.” Both are exquisitely designed awe-inspiring buildings.
It was Masqueray’s work at the fair that won the admiration of the archbishop of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Archbishop John Ireland, who met the young architect while visiting the fair. “Ireland was searching for an architect who would fulfill his dream of a new cathedral for St. Paul and who could also design a large basilica in neighboring Minneapolis.” The archbishop must have been impressed both by Masqueray and his buildings at the fair.
Archbishop Ireland “had strong sympathies with the Beaux Arts” and so an architect who was Beaux-Arts-trained appealed to him greatly. Once Masqueray had been offered the position of architect he “embarked on a four-month tour of French cathedrals to gather inspiration for the design. He returned to St. Paul on November 15, 1905, with his plans for the cathedral, and the archbishop and the building committee accepted them the same day…The plan was based on a Greek cross, having nearly equal arms, and resembled the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur (1879) in Paris in having an out-of-scale dome above the crossing. This great church had been based, in turn, on the equally impressive Byzantine masterpiece, the twelfth-century St. Front Cathedral in Perigueux, France. Although Masqueray never mentioned Sacre-Coeur as being an influence, he did state that the edifice in Perigueux was, and the similarities in treatment among the three churches are too obvious to be ignored.”
The beauty of these churches affected me deeply early on in my formation as an architect. So much so that during the dark days of the recession I would lift my sprits by building 3-D computer models of each edifice. In the process of making the models I carefully studied the entire exterior of the churches and gained appreciation for the proportions, composition, and detailing, all of which contribute to beauty of the buildings. This effort would prove to be a turning point in my life, for a highly respected church architect in Washington D.C., impressed by the models, offered me a position at his firm. There, among an office full of young Notre Dame grads, I discovered another way (a classical way) of understanding the design of buildings and churches. I soon entered the post-graduate program at Notre Dame where I was taught the canons that made great buildings, such as the Cathedral of Saint Paul, lasting and meaningful; the same lessons learned by Masqueray, Vignola, Bernini, Michelangelo and many others that followed in their footsteps.
The cathedral model has been used in promotional videos for the Cathedral of Saint Paul and Red Bull Crashed Ice – an exciting downhill ice skating race that has taken place in front of the building for a few years now. To view the 2016 Crashed Ice St. Paul track preview video featuring the cathedral model click here Each winter only a few cities throughout the northern hemisphere are chosen to host one of the events. A commonality these cities usually share is the pleasant juxtaposition of an avant-garde ice track winding its way down a hill within a setting of traditional buildings. I suspect that the organizers are aware of this striking combination and realized Cathedral Hill Park (located in front of the cathedral) would be a most appropriate venue for this icy, winter spectacle.
I’m honored that the cathedral model has been used by others to promote the building and an exciting sporting event that takes place on its doorstep. Even more so though, the models I made of Masqueray’s masterpieces helped me embark on a career in traditional architecture. For this I will be forever grateful.
Zach May is a transplanted northerner from Minnetonka, Minnesota and joined Michael G. Imber Architect’s in 2013.