Monday, April 07, 2008

The last days of the St. Raphael's Cathedral Madisonians have known for more than a century


Peter Patau Photo

We were on our way to the Wisconsin Film Festival Saturday when we passed St. Raphael's Cathedral. Although we were already running late, the stained glass windows glowed so brilliantly in the late afternoon light that we had to pull over and take some pictures (click on photos to enlarge).

Normally, stained glass windows glow in a darkened interior, but ever since fire destroyed the roof and the sanctuary three years ago, while leaving the walls and the steeple standing, the sun streams right through the empty building when it's low in the sky, and the windows put on a dazzling light show on the shadowed walls.

The reason the steeple looks so new is that it is new -- it was replaced by a replica of the deteriorating spire (built in 1885) just months before the fire broke out. The cornerstone of the former parish church was laid in 1854. In 1946 St. Raphael's was chosen as the Cathedral Parish of the new Archdiocese of Madison, which encompassed an 11-county area. St. Raphael's has long been a part of life in Madison, as well as its downtown skyline.

Soon, however, it will go on leave of absence from the skyline until a new cathedral is built. Demolition is scheduled to start soon and be completed this year. A fund-raising drive was recently put on hold for a year because of economic conditions, but the plan is to build a larger cathedral on the same site , retaining as many parts of the old building as possible -- including undamaged windows, parts of the interior and, especially, the ornate and familiar spire. Click here for more background on St. Rapahel's in the Madison Catholic Herald.


thechrisproject said...

That's a nice summary of the church history. I'm fascinated by it. After I made this photo of the church, I really wanted to get inside to take pictures. I tried contacting the Archdiocese but never heard back.

Madison Guy said...

Beautiful photo, Chris. Are you going to try to get in again before they tear it down?

thechrisproject said...

Yes, I will try some more. Know anyone at the Archdiocese?

Madison Guy said...

Nope, sorry -- my connection is purely photographic. You might want to ask for one of their media relations people. Send 'em a jpeg of your stitched photograph of the cathedral -- that will show you're serious.

Anonymous said...

Interesting photos. Actually Madison is a Diocese in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Anonymous said...

Its terrible what happen to the stepple after all that hard work.I know that first hand. I did the design and supervised the reconstruction of the new one.I also installed the connecting pieces on site.I hope it is put back together like it was.It would be a shame it is a beautiful stepple.If you need any help let me know I would help in anyway possible.