Today Megan, Sheri and I took a fun little ride to Mendota Heights to see St. Peter’s Catholic Church. It is the oldest Catholic church in continuous use in the state of Minnesota. It was founded in 1840 and was declared a Historic Site by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1935.
Before even going in, we walked around the outskirts where there is a pretty garden with neat little stones adorning the gardens. They do a wonderful job with all their flowers & greenery. Very inviting!
My friend Beth, is a parishioner of this church and donates her time once a month from Memorial day to Labor Day, to give tours of this beautiful church. She was a great guide and knows her history of the church. She says she just has a “thing” for churches and history. The bottom picture is her at the largest Catholic church in the U.S, in Washington, DC. She also does many faith-based 5K walk/runs at churches all over Minnesota. Kind of a fun thing for her.
She greeted us at the doors and explained a little of how this church got it start. We then continued inside and were amazed by this quaint little structure. It reminded me a little of Holy Spirit, where Nate and I were married…only much smaller.
As I said, this church was built in 1853 and Beth had a picture of this displayed. It started being built in 1840 as a log cabin church. Later they used limestone from local quarries which made it much stronger. Today the church has the same outside, but the interior has been restored.
The Steeple: The first, a shorter and bell-less steeple with a wooden cross, was destroyed in a wind storm in 1881. The second was built taller and with a bronze bell, but again was destroyed in 1951. While the third was being built, they hung the bell in a tree so that it could still be used to call people to mass. This steeple we saw today is the 5th one that has topped this church. They still have the original bell, but it hangs inside a cupola and we couldn’t see it. There is a rope that hangs down inside the front door. Beth says she lets kids ring the bell when they are touring and she often rings it at the start of her open tours to let people know she is in there. Pretty cool!
Inside the church: Many changes have taken place throughout the years. At one time, this church could seat over 400 people! They had put in opera-type seats, a balcony, and even eliminated the middle aisle. I can’t imagine that many people in here! Beth said during the restoration period, they eliminated that balcony because it just didn’t seem safe.
Restoration: By 1975, the church was in very bad condition and had to be closed for repairs. The entire interior was restored to the state that it was in at about the 1890’s. The altar, statues, pews, center aisle, two wooden kneelers (on the altar), candlesticks, and the Stations of the Cross are all just about as they were at that time. In the sacristy, the cabinet for the vestments dates back to 1865. We weren’t allowed to go on the altar, so I couldn’t get a good picture of that. It was very antique looking and neat and still used today.
When you walk into this lovely church on a sunny day, you can’t help but notice the gorgeous stained glass windows. They are all around you and really bring out the beauty of this church. The stained glass windows were installed in 1904. The window opening over the main door was rediscovered during the renovation in the 1970’s and a new glass was put in when the new steeple was added in 1978, the year that the church was rededicated.
The original church cost $4,425.80. The renovation in the 70’s cost over $280,000. Quite a difference but I’d say worth it. Another ironic thing about this church, it was completed on the same day that Nate and I were married, September 24th, but a few years before us.
What a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Thank you Beth for inviting us. We are hoping to go back at Christmas time and see it decorated for the holidays and hear the choir singing carols. I bet that will be amazing to be a part of.