Inside the Basilica of St. Mary


The Basilica of St. Mary sits on the western edge of Downtown Minneapolis.  It is in a neighborhood of other churches and institutions of culture, including the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.  The cherry sculpture above is called "Spoonbridge and Cherry Fountain" by Claes Oldenberg and Coosje van Bruggen.

In the Roman Catholic faith, a basilica refers to a large and important church that has been awarded special ceremonial rights by the Pope. It is technically thought of as a co-cathederal with the Cathederal of St. Paul in St. Paul, MN.


The building is 99 years old and it is a mammoth and squat building made of white Vermont granite.  The domed roof is copper and there are two bell towers in each of the front corners.

If you look at the very top you will notice what looks like a little roofed porch. 

That's where we are headed.

Several years ago my son Michael was a janitor at the Basilica.  It wasn't a very glamorous job, but it did give him complete access to the entire building.

It wasn't easy and it wasn't obvious, but eventually Michael figured out how to get to the very top of the copper roof and eventually he invited me.


Looking up.

The access to the top is a series of ladders and small platforms that were built on location.  You can see the older ladder to the left of this new ladder.  The platform is just two boards laid across some joists.  You have this sense of following the arch as you moved further up.

The roof is really a double-walled shell about 5 feet across with a random metal lattice holding the outside copper roof to the inside ceiling of the church sanctuary. 

The top of the grand dome is 150 feet above the floor.

I had this morbid premonition of slipping off a ladder, crashing through the plaster ceiling above the sanctuary and then free falling to the marble floor.  Ouch.


Eventually you cannot get any further and you come to a dead end.  An access cover pops open and then you are on a small open platform about 8 feet across. 

There are no safety lines.

I can't be certain how many people Michael eventually brought up here.  He enjoyed sharing the experience and his boss never specifically told him that he probably shouldn't crawl all the way to the top of the copper dome.

And now, any statutes of limitations surely have since expired.


I am not a fan of heights. This photo captures quite nicely the tension I was feeling.

The two bells are rarely rung any longer.  The vibrations that a ringing bell create are very hard on the structure of the building and it doesn't help having a major freeway immediately next door.


Eventually you begin to get more comfortable and can appreciate the view.  It really is a spectacular view of Minneapolis.

In thinking back though, it will be the journey to the top of the dome that will be remembered and not so much being there.