05 June 2014

Old Cathedral Restoration Forgot One Big Thing

Reformulating a comment I left on Facebook yesterday, I'd like to pose a sincere question about the nearly-completed restoration work being done to the Old Cathedral.

My wife and I were married in the Old Cathedral (the Basilica of St. Louis IX, King of France), so that fact adds to the all of the other reasons why I love this church.  It is the oldest Cathedral west of the Mississippi.  It was the principal church of a diocese which at one time covered the entire Louisiana Purchase.  It sits like a jewel beneath the Arch in every touristy-skyline photo, reminding everyone of the presence of the still amazingly vital Catholic Faith in this city. 

The City's Catholicism is co-extant with its existence, founded by the French before the nation was founded, and before many of the cities of this continent that are much further east, towards the coast.

So, with all this in mind, as you view and consider the restoration work shown in the video above, do not think my question to be merely one of a cranky trad, when I ask:

Why was not the altar restored as well?  Why isn't the altar brought closer to its original design?

As you look at the video in the linked report, you will still see the altar (which appears to be the same as the grainy pre-conciliar photo above) moved away from the reredos, floating in the middle of the sanctuary.

The church is still a functioning parish, yes, but it is also a major tourist attraction, an historical site, a glimpse into the foundations of the Church in our Archdiocese.  The Mass first celebrated here is the timeless Mass-- what is called the Extraordinary Form.  If this Church is an architectural piece, why not give it its purposed design?

And, true story, one of the great secrets of the modern Church is that not only may the novus ordo be celebrated on an affixed altar, ad orientem, it was actually designed to be so celebrated.  No priests or laity would be harmed in the celebration of Mass ad orientem.

Again the EF is timeless, it is not a relic or a thing of the past.  It is a currently approved and celebrated form of the Roman Rite.  If you think it "extraordinary", why not celebrate it in this "extraordinary" church?  If celebrating the Mass ad orientem is no big deal, fix the altar.  If it is a "thing of the past", why not put the altar back in a church that is primarily a museum piece for visitors anyway?

The above photo bears no date, and believe me, it is harder than pulling eye teeth to find a pre-V2 interior shot of this church.  Certainly, one might have expected it on the church's own website, but even though there are galleries of historical photos in their own "history" tab, one would search in vain.

So, two cheers for Old Cathedral renovations.  As Maxwell Smart might say, "Missed it by that much."


dulac90 said...

Reminds me of visiting Mission San Jose in San Antonio. Much effort is put into explaining how meticulously the complex has been renovated to reflect what life was like when the mission was operating.

Unfortunately, the church is still a parish of the archdiocese and has certain "exemptions" from historic authenticity.

Cathy D said...

Hey, my husband and I were also married in the Old Cathedral!

I have a nagging question: how do you pronounce "reredos"?

thetimman said...


A tougher question than might appear. Why? Well...

The word itself is the same I English or Spanish. Reredos is sometimes spelled in English as Raredos.

I point this out because one online dictionary has it:

REER-daws with the accent on the first syllable. RARE-daws is the spelling sensitive counterpart.

However, this is not the only pronunciation and frankly, I think it is the clumsiest.

In Spanish, reredos is pronounced:

rey-REY-dos, with the accent on the second syllable and a long o, like dose. That is how I have always pronounced it, even here. Gets me some strange looks from native born priests.

Apart from that, other online dictionaries have it like so:

RARE-re-daws. RARE-re-dos. REER-i-daws. These are better than REER-daws.

To confuse matters further, the word in French, Retable, has a counterpart in Spanish: Retablo.



Finally, in Arnold, there is a unique variant pronounced thusly:

that thing against the wall over there.

How's that?

Cathy D said...

Thanks! As a Spanish speaker in Valley Park, I think I'll use the Spanish pronunciation when I'm reading the word to myself. If I'm talking to anyone else, though, I'll stick with the Arnold pronunciation!

Anonymous said...

I am not a Catholic but have always had a love for the old cathedral. I could always see the potential for restoration of this historic church. The austere interior with its Williamsburg blue walls and white statues did not do this place of worship justice. Not only is it the oldest cathedral west of the mighty Mississippi but it is also the oldest existing building in the city of St. Louis.

About the altar. I understood that the altar in the historic picture that you have posted is not the original altar from 1834 but a later addition.

I bring up another concern in the "Restoration" of this historic and beautiful church. In 1834 the devotional statues in a church of the importance would not have been painted white. They would have been painted in full color. Was it a conscious decision of the post Vatican II liberal clergy to paint the statues white in order for them to fade out and not be noticed? If the archdiocese is "restoring" this church then "restore" it. Give the faithful and tourists a glimpse of what the first religion of this city looked like in the early 19th century

Mark Schaefering said...

By the way you can sign the above comments from

Mark Schaefering
Byzantine icon painter
St. Theodora Icon Studio