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Every morning, Celeste Raspanti walks through the Cathedral of St. Paul’s “secret door.”
The brown slab of metal is not visible from the street or even the sidewalk marking the perimeter of the grand edifice.
Situated near the northeast corner of the church, it leads to the balcony of Msgr. Ambrose Hayden Hall, where decades of cathedral history are stashed in dozens of cardboard boxes that Raspanti works feverishly to sort and organize.
According to local historian Alan Lathrop’s 1980 profile of Emmanuel Louis Masqueray for Minnesota History magazine, the architect was “virtually unknown” in 1904, at the time Archbishop John Ireland commissioned the 43-year-old to design the Cathedral of St. Paul.
Barren walls. A silent eucharistic prayer. Hats, lots of them.
This would have been the scene for the first Masses at the Cathedral of St. Paul starting on that Palm Sunday in 1915.
The visual changes within the cathedral — and the people who worship there — mirror the last century’s changes in the liturgy.
Local historian Larry Millett isn’t an expert on the Cathedral of St. Paul, but as a longtime researcher of the Twin Cities’ architectural landscape, he can’t help but run into it, he said. As anyone driving West on Interstate 94 into St. Paul knows, that domed building overlooking downtown “is pretty hard to ignore,” Millett said.
“I can still see Archbishop John Ireland at the altar, beaming with joy. . . . On that morning the cathedral was hardly more than a shell. Only the wall and the dome had been erected. The walls were completed, in a sense, but the bare bricks that composed them were exposed on the inside.”