[...]To appreciate the full effect, you're urged to go inside, of course. Climb a steep flight of stairs at the main entrance (there's an elevator on the side), and push open the heavy oak doors, pausing a moment to admire their gorgeous bronze ornamentation. Give your eyes a second to adjust to the darkness, and you'll find yourself inside a vast Fabergé egg, a fantastic cavern of hallucinatory detail and over-the-top extravagance. Consistent with the Gothic Revival tradition, delicately carved wood largely substitutes for marble, lending a warm, mysterious look to an interior that might otherwise seem cold and formal. The gilded and white-enameled wood reredos in the sanctuary soars 52 feet and hosts a trippy array of statues representing angels, saints and members of the holy family, all lovingly painted in lifelike colors. The vaulted ceiling, 70 feet high, is adorned with an opulent fresco reminiscent of wallpaper designs by William Morris: stylized vines, flowers, bees and butterflies painstakingly rendered in rich jewel tones and gold leaf. One of the most exquisite and unusual features of the church is the glittering baptistry apse, inlaid with a Byzantine mosaic of lapis-blue and gold; it's not quite in keeping with the Gothic theme, but it's so outlandishly pretty that only the most uptight architectural purist would object.
But as resplendent as the building is, it's only part of the reason we're deeming St. Francis de Sales the best church in St. Louis. Perhaps its most remarkable characteristic is that it's a city church on the upswing. Over the past four decades, the city's population has dwindled, forcing many parishes to consolidate as increasing numbers of people abandon their neighborhood churches for new ones closer to their homes out in Sprawlsville. ...These days, however ... St. Francis de Sales is thriving... The little girls in their puffy white communion dresses, the ancient ladies in their lacy black veils, the reverent men ... in the choir loft -- these welcome additions to the parish have infused the church with new life, continuing a tradition that began with another generation of immigrants, those stubborn, hard-working, big-dreaming Germans who spent 12 years worshiping in a basement to bring us this architectural treasure.
-- René Spencer Saller
OK, you're wondering, has the RFT gone soft on Traditional Catholicism? Has it forgotten its political agenda? Does it suddenly love mantillas and non-English Masses? Well, that depends.
You see, this article was written when the RFT handed out the award for Best Church of 2000. The RFT loved the architecture, the Spanish Masses, and the traditional expressions of the hispanic population, which included some, though not all, of the traditions one still finds at the Oratory.
I get the feeling that the RFT may not care for Latin as much as Spanish, but maybe it will surprise me. Look for them to come back and give the Oratory the award for Best Church 2011.
Thanks to the intrepid Mrs. C for this fine trip down RFT memory lane.