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St. Louis is home to several historic churches to visit on summer getaways

Local residents don’t have to travel to Europe to visit historic churches this summer. St. Louis has several excellent examples of church architecture.

The city’s history dates back to the mid-18th century when the continent was divided among the British, French and Spanish colonial powers. As a result of this rich history, there are several historic churches in St. Louis. The most notable are Christ Church Cathedral (Episcopal), the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis (Roman Catholic) and the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France (also Roman Catholic).

The seat of the Episcopal bishop of Missouri, Christ Church Cathedral features Gothic revival architecture fairly typical to when the core of the present-day edifice was built between 1859 and 1867. The tower at the northwest corner of the exterior — erected in the early 20th century — is perhaps the most striking element of the design, if only because the Indiana limestone contrasts with the cathedral’s original Illinois sandstone.

Inside is a spectacular reredos, or altar screen. Rising 35 feet above the high altar at the east end, the reredos was inspired by a similar screen at St. Alban’s Cathedral in England and sculpted by noted period ecclesiastical artist Harry Hems.

The Episcopal cathedral pales in comparison to the two Roman Catholic churches. Somewhat confusingly, both are dedicated to the city’s namesake, Louis IX, king and saint. The Basilica of St. Louis, King of France, almost universally called the Old Cathedral, is just that: The old cathedral. It also was the first cathedral west of the Mississippi River.

The Greek Revival edifice was built in the early 1830s a stone’s throw from the riverfront on land set aside for a church after Pierre Laclede and Auguste Chouteau founded St. Louis in 1764. Today, it is overshadowed by Eero Saarinen’s landmark Gateway Arch (part of the Gateway Arch National Park). The green space was redeveloped in recent years through the construction of a beautiful so-called lid park that blankets to seamlessly connect the riverfront and downtown.

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis is known as the New Cathedral. Architect George Barnett’s design, inspired by the Cathedral Basilica of St. Mark in Venice and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, combined Romanesque and Byzantine styles into an architectural masterpiece unrivaled anywhere in North America. The cathedral has been called the “Rome of the West.”

The interior feels features 41.5 million pieces of glass used to create the mosaics. The mosaics, which depict various biblical stories and saints, were installed in the decades after then-Archbishop John Glennon initiated construction of the cathedral in 1907.

–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice