Today we explore the Basilica of Saint Louis, in Saint Louis, Missouri. This church has a Romanesque exterior and a Byzantine interior. The church is considered one of the Top 10 most beautiful churches in America by the readers National Geographic, TripAdvisor and many other travel sites and is undoubtedly the most stunning church I have ever seen.
The church is named (like the city) after Saint Louis (King Louis IX of France). King Louis IX collected several reported relics including what he claimed was Christ’s crown of thorns. He is often depicted holding this crown in the church’s interior artwork.
The sudden architectural change once entering the basilica is stunning. The exterior was a Romanesque style, and the gray stone gives the building a severe reserved impression. But upon entering you are met with A gold, vibrant byzantine design that belies the stark exterior. The mixture of the Western Romanesque and the Eastern Byzantine was by design. Since the city of Saint Louis has been called “The Gateway to the West” the church designers wanted to illustrate this point.
After entering the great hall, you depart through another set of doors to the sanctuary.
Here are some shots of the mosaic work. The work is so detailed you could look at it for hours and still notice new things.
There are a couple side chapels. one honors the cardinals who served from this church and another is the Chapel of Saint Louis. This chapel is where Pope John Paul II prayed and since he was recently canonized, you can now visit the shrine and have it count as an official pilgrimage.
Underneath the church is a vault that houses a museum about the history of the church and about the designers who built it. Also, the vault includes a crypt that houses the remains of four of the churches cardinals as well as some of the vestiges and the throne the pope sat on while visiting the city.
Even for a Protestant guy like me, the church is a moving sight. The church is free to visit although donations are kindly accepted. You can even ask in the great hall for a free tour. I definitely recommend the tour because there is just so much detail in the artwork that you will miss out on a lot of it.