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With renovations complete, Old Cathedral fully reopens with a classic look

A look inside the Old Cathedral's renovation
Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio
A look inside the Old Cathedral's renovation

The oldest Roman Catholic cathedral west of the Mississippi River is fully open to visitors once again.

The Basilica of St. Louis, better known as the Old Cathedral, never shut down during a multi-million dollar renovation that restored the church to its 1870s glory.

"We had to come up with some very creative ways to have people seated" for daily Mass, said the Rev. Richard Quirk, the Cathedral's assistant pastor.

The church's museum, which was gutted and expanded as part of the project, re-opened on Tuesday. Quirk said the renovated museum will highlight the role of faith in the history of St. Louis.

“Our museum will be interfacing with the new Gateway Arch museum, and there will be a path kind of connecting the two of them. So, as they grow and develop, we plan to grow and develop so people of all faiths can appreciate the role their faith and our faith played in the movement west," he said.

Quirk chaired the committee that oversaw the project. Planning took nearly six years, he said, and members had to initially decide whether to complete renovations from 1959 and 1960 or to “dig into the past.”

The group chose the latter.

“The restoration we just completed is pretty much the way church looked in the heyday of St. Louis in 1870,” Quirk said.  

The extensive renovations can be seen both inside and outside. They include a new limestone facade and repairs to the steeple, in addition to a restored mosaic and refinished wooden floors, pews and confessional booths.

Adding to the retro look are a number of paintings from the 1800s that used to hang in the church, but had since been hidden away in storage.

“We consulted an art person here and had all those restored, and it’s looking pretty amazing,” Quirk said.

Quirk said about 200,000 visitors a year stop into the Old Cathedral. He said the renovations come at a perfect time with Easter nearing, because the colors and springtime sunshine make the Cathedral look “festive.”  

Follow Nathan Rubbelke on Twitter: @naterub