the Old Cathedral
The history of the Old Cathedral and the early history of the City of St.
Louis are intertwined. The Old Cathedral
Museum, located on the west side of the Cathedral, contains many artifacts
and relics from the early days of the
Catholic Church in St. Louis and also historical information. When Pierre
Liguest Laclede and his First Lieutenant
Auguste Chouteau founded the City of St. Louis in 1764, Laclede dedicated
the square just west of where he built
his home, to church and graveyard purposes. The first Catholic Church in
St. Louis built on this site, was a small
log house built in 1770. St. Louis IX, King of France, is the Patron Saint
of the City and of the Church. In 1776, the
mission of St. Louis became a canonical parish and the second log cabin
church was built. Its bell, the gift of
Lieutenant Governor Don Piernos and enriched by 200 Spanish silver dollars
in its casting, can be seen today in
the Old Cathedral Museum.
In 1826 St. Louis became a Diocese and the following year Bishop Joseph
Rosati, C.M. became the first bishop of
the Diocese of St. Louis. The cornerstone of the present Cathedral building
was laid in 1831 and the dedication of
the building took place in 1834. This was the first Cathedral west of the
Mississippi and until 1845 it was the only
parish church in the city of St. Louis. It is truly the "Mother Church" of
the City of St. Louis. The first St. Vincent de
Paul Society Conference in America was founded in 1845 at this Cathedral. A
bronze plaque on the facade of the
this historic Church commemorates the founding of the St. Vincent de Paul
Society in America. The Old Cathedral
St. Vincent de Paul Society Conference continues to meet here on a regular
basis and helps the poor and
homeless in the neighborhood.
This building was the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of St. Louis until 1914,
when the New Cathedral on Lindell Blvd
in the more "fashionable" western part of the city was dedicated, The title
of Cathedral passed from this venerable
Church, but to most St. Louisans this Church remained the "Old" Cathedral.
During the following years little public
attention was drawn to the Old Cathedral. However on Christmas day in 1922,
a High Mass, the farewell service of
Monsignor Tannrath, then Pastor of the Old Cathedral, was broadcast "live"
over Radio Station KSD. This marked
the first time that the world heard the broadcast of Holy Mass or any other
Christmas liturgical service.
On January 27, 1961, Pope John XXIII signed a Decree naming the former
Cathedral of St. Louis, a Basilica,
recognizing it as "a treasure of the universal church". It belongs in a
real sense to the whole world and not just to
our locality. The ornamental insignia of a basilica are the half open
umbrella (canopeum), and the bell in the key
shaped frame (tintinnabulum) which led papal processions. These insignia
are displayed in the rear of the church.
By 1933, some 40 blocks of the downtown riverfront surrounding the Old
cathedral had fallen into decay. Luther Ely
Smith, a St. Louisan, spelled out a plan for developing a memorial on the riverfront to Mayor Bernard F. Dickmann who
had been married in the Old Cathedral.
On December 15, 1933, Mayor Dickmann called a meeting of St. Louis civic
leaders in the Jefferson Hotel. From
this meeting was born the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial which
surrounds the Old Cathedral. President
Roosevelt authorized the Interior Department to acquire the tract of the
original city settlement between Poplar
Street and the Eads bridge west to Third Street. The only exception, the
only building to be saved, the only land not
to be claimed for the park, was the site of the church, and the historic
Old Cathedral building standing where it has
always stood. The memorial commemorates Thomas Jefferson, under whose
presidency Louisiana was purchased,
and the pioneers who broke open the American west. The Basilica of St.
Louis, King of France, "The Old
Cathedral" stands in the center of the memorial as a reminder of the
expansion of faith throughout the west.