Rare American Byzantine Romanesque Revival

Photos: OC-Travel
One of the top most beautiful little examples of whimsical twenties church architecture in the American Midwest is seen here, the former parish church of St. Andrew in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Sadly, it will be torn down later this month, bringing to mind a line from T.S. Eliot, "It is...easier to destroy than to construct..."

The frieze above the entrance is made from Indiana limestone and depicts the call of Andrew and his brother Peter.
St. Andrew's was built in 1927 by a local architect, a rare example of 1920s American ecclesiastical architecture in the style of Byzantine and North Italian Lombard Romanesque.  It was designed to reflect a city gate and signal tower, beckoning all to safe harbor.  Indeed, the temple informs the city.

Side view illustration revealing the intricate brick and tile work.
The cornerstone of the church reads 1927.  It was built by an extremely gifted local architect and later senator, Charles Hausler (1889-1971) and consecrated by Archbishop Austin Dowling (1868-1930).  The church was built in less than a year by 500 registered families for the price of $125,000, with a seating capacity of 810.  On the occasion of the laying of the cornerstone, Archbishop Dowling noted that "of all the foes of Christ who conspired for his death, to none is a temple raised.  But to Christ, churches are being and have ever since been built." 

The cornerstone which contains blessed objects and sacramentals.
The colorful church is easily recognizable with its Arcadia red brick exterior and multi-colored terra-cotta roof tiles and outdoor glazed ceramic masonry tiles.  It has been a neighborhood landmark and its destruction is a major cultural loss.  

Front capitals indicating precious hand-carving technique.
St. Andrew's played an important role in the 9th National Eucharistic Congress that was held in nearby Como Park and the Minnesota State Fair Grounds June 23-26, 1941.  All eyes were on St. Andrew's on June 26, 1941, the final day of the Congress, when the closing procession with the Blessed Sacrament began at St. Andrew's and processed through the streets of Como to the closing ceremonies at the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand.  Thousands lines the streets to witness the event, reported to be the largest and most magnificent gathering of its kind in the country.

Detail of very rare 1920s tile and brick work combination.  

In 2013 the church campus (rectory, school, church, convent) were sold by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to the Twin Cities German Immersion School.  The school plans to expand their campus, tearing down the old church they have been using as a gymnasium.  They have stated they need the space and know their decision is best.

Neighbourhood signs appealing the for the preservation of the historic structure.
Unfortunately, the expansion plans of the school reflect an ideal of "endless growth" that is a problematic old sophism dressed up as a new principle of modern thinking - that perfection is becoming.  In truth, as Boethius once stated, the satisfaction of desire would be better achieved by wanting less (because desires are infinite).  Socrates said the highest wisdom is to know that you know nothing and St. Paul said the wisdom of this world is folly.  The only aim of education cannot be to teach youth to be good scientists and business men.  We have forgotten the long tradition of teaching art, history, religion, architecture, classicism and good taste, "the best that has been thought, built and said."       

Westminster Cathedral in London, the architectural inspiration for St. Andrew's in Como.

Many articles have been written on the unfortunate debacle.  Despite large protests to save the old church, there has also been seen a certain exhilaration for destruction on the part of the current property owners.  Unfortunately, the property was sold by the Archdiocese in the first place, but that is another story (as a side note, the bishop behind the sale was later deposed by the Holy See and his vicar general left the priesthood, but I digress).

The church as it appeared when it was sold.
Let this be a lesson.  A lot of old churches are being sold and re-purposed or demolished as of late.  One that comes to mind is St. Aidan's in Boston, the historic Brookline Tudor church where President Kennedy was baptized in 1917.  It was sold in 1999 and has since been converted into private residences.

The cross from the front facade of St. Andrew's, deposed from the rooftop.
These acts of destruction contain an interesting insight into our present age.  Briefly, they reflect an assertion of the primacy of individual will, that man has become God.  They also illustrate a rejection of the past and our attachment to it as well as a burning attempt to remove Christianity from its central place in society and the art that embodies it.  Meanwhile, a lack of respect for the sacred is the result and an assumption of innocence toward all the destroyers.

Interior image from a 1968 wedding, courtesy of Catholic Parents Online. 

EDITOR'S UPDATE: We regret to inform readers St. Andrew's was destroyed the week of the Solemnity of the Assumption.

Image of the rubble of the church.  Note the organ, installed in 1941, was not spared.

Join in the conversation on our Facebook page.