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 exterior of the Church is a Romanesque design. There are actually two interior domes although the second dome isn’t visible from the front. 


The exterior work began in 1907 and wasn’t finished until 1926. The interior work took even longer. 


One of the few Catholic churches in the United States to have been visited by the Pope (His Holiness John Paul II) the church door bear the papal seal. When in St Louis in 1999, the pope prayed at this church several times. 

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.


Upon entering the great doors you come upon a golden outer hall. The mosaics on the walls explain the many stories that were told about Saint Louis including his return with the crown of thorns. 
A Byzantine representation of the Christ from the great hall. 

After entering the great hall, you depart through another set of doors to the sanctuary.

All the artwork in the church interior is mosaic. This is the largest mosaic in North America. Made up of thousands of colored and gold tiles, the interior work was painstakingly slow and meticulous. Work officially began in 1912 and was not completed until 1988. The original designer didn’t live to complete his work and his sons had to finish for him.
Surrounded by two Archangels Christ is flanked by Apostles and Saints
When the Sanctuary lights are on, the detail work becomes much more apparent. 
The Altar area
The smaller red dome and the front 
The great Dome behind the Altar area
A closer view of the great blue Dome.
A mosaic representation of God the Father
Madonna and Child
This portrait of Christ is also mosaic although the work is so finely done you have to get close to be able to tell. 

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.

The Cardinal’s chapel
Detail work on the chapel.
The chapel of Saint Louis

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.

The Pope’s chair
The Cardinal’s crypt
Commemorative items from the Pope’s 1999 visit. 
Outside the church is a statue promoting racial harmony. I especially like how the angel’s wings are wind chimes. 

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. 





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