Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Touring Minnesota’s “other” basilica, St. Stan’s in Winona September 24, 2015

The Basilica of Saint

The Basilica of Saint Stanislaus Kostka, named after a popular saint from Poland, is so massive I could not get the entire basilica in a photo. It’s located at 625 East Fourth Street in Winona, Minnesota.

UNOFFICIALLY, PARISHIONERS CALL the basilica St. Stan’s. I like that. It seems fitting in an age when the current pope, Pope Francis, has connected in an everyday sort of way with the faithful, Catholic or not.

I am Lutheran. But denominational affiliation matters not when touring a beautiful house of worship. Or appreciating a man who oversees with a blessed sense of ordinariness. Several weeks ago my husband, a Catholic turned Lutheran, and I visited the Basilica of Saint Stanislaus Kostka, aka St. Stan’s, in Winona. Touring churches interests us from multiple perspectives.

Students from the basilica's school file in for morning Mass.

Students file in for morning Mass.

An altar boy prepares for Mass.

An altar boy prepares for Mass.

The stained glass windows are incredible in their sacred symbolism and beauty.

The stained glass windows are incredible in their sacred symbolism and beauty.

We arrived at St. Stan’s shortly before a children’s Mass, leaving us to observe from the balcony the reverent holiness of an altar boy lighting a candle, the filing of elementary students into pews, the light of a sultry summer morning filtering through stained glass windows.

Beautiful morning light filters through stained glass onto the curving balcony railing.

Lovely morning light filters through stained glass onto the curved balcony railing.

A statue is tucked into a corner below stations of the cross.

A statue is tucked into a corner below stations of the cross.

The paintings inside the dome are exquisite in their detailed beauty.

The paintings inside the dome are exquisite in their detail.

The bread and the wine before it is carried to the front of the sanctuary.

The bread and the wine before they are carried to the front of the sanctuary.

Polish words on a stained glass window translate to

Polish words on a stained glass window translate, according to Google translate, to “”Association of the Children of Mary.”

I stood there in awe, swinging my camera lens toward marble pillars and stained glass, statues and crucifixes, curving wood and paintings, Communion wafers and words in Polish.

The upper portion of the basilica at its main entry.

The upper portion of the basilica at its main entry.

This is a church of Polish immigrants. Built in 1894 – 1895 of brick and stone in Romansque style (in the form of a Greek cross) by the Winona architectural firm of Charles G. Maybury & Son, the basilica is on the National Register of Historic Places.

With its designation as a basilica, St. Stan's also received a crest symbolic of important events in its history. Click here to learn about the crest.

With its designation as a basilica, St. Stan’s also received a crest symbolic of important events in its history. Click here to learn about the crest.

Not knowing the difference between a regular Catholic church and a basilica, I learned from online research that a basilica has received special privileges from the pope. St. Stan’s rates as a minor basilica , the 70th in the U.S. and only one of two in Minnesota. (The other is the Basilica of Saint Mary in downtown Minneapolis.) The title ties to the extraordinary architectural quality of the building and to the congregation’s significant Polish heritage, according to a 2011 press release from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Winona¬†announcing the designation by the Vatican.

I'm certain the scenes in each stained glass window hold religious significance.

The stained glass windows truly are religious works of art.

The stairway to the balcony features incredible craftsmanship.

The stairway to the balcony features incredible craftsmanship.

Massive marble pillars impress.

Massive marble pillars impress.

Terminology and privileges aside, this is one impressive house of worship. It’s artful and splendid. Reverent and meaningful. Personal, yet powerful in its sheer size.

I expect many a worshiper has found comfort in these stained glass windows.

I expect many a worshiper has found comfort in these stained glass windows.

This massive place holds generations of family history. Imagine the sins confessed and forgiven here, the blessings bestowed, the holy water sprinkled, the families who’ve grieved and celebrated within the walls of St. Stan’s.

The priest is about to proceed up the aisle to begin Mass.

The priest is about to proceed up the aisle to begin Mass.

To witness the next generation in worship on a Friday morning in God’s house reaffirms for me that the faith of our fathers remains strong. Just like this aged basilica in the Mississippi River town of Winona.

BONUS PHOTOS of the exterior:

A back view of St. Stan's.

A back view of St. Stan’s.

Angel art atop a tower.

Angel art atop a tower.

Roof details.

Roof details.

The main entrance.

The main entrance.

And the landmark dome.

And the landmark dome.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling