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

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20 Responses to “Touring Minnesota’s “other” basilica, St. Stan’s in Winona”

  1. What a Beautiful Basilica from the exterior to the interior – if the walls could talk – loving your captures – thanks so much for sharing 🙂 Happy Day – Enjoy!

  2. Beth Ann Says:

    Simply stunning pictures. What a wonderful place to worship and soak it all in. Thank you for sharing this with us. Just finished watching the Pope so it seemed quite timely.

  3. Littlesundog Says:

    There are many beautiful old historic churches throughout the US. I love the simplicity of the country churches, but there is much to be said of the grandeur of the larger historic churches in the big cities. Your photojournaling is excellent in this series of photos. Nice captures!

  4. That is a beautiful church. Wow!!!

  5. treadlemusic Says:

    The architecture is stunning!!!!

  6. Jackie Says:

    I just love these huge churches, this is a beautiful one for sure. Thanks for sharing, wonderful photo’s as always

  7. Sue Ready Says:

    Thanks for the informative post. In fact I emailed it to several of my Catholic friends who would appreciate your comments and stunning photography. Your lens artfully captures the beauty, craftmanship and serenity of this house of worship. Also enjoyed extra tidbit about basilica.

    • Thank you for sharing this post with your friends. It’s such a lovely house of worship. Impressive and simply amazing that this was built in the late 1800s without modern equipment to aid in its construction. How did they do this, I wonder?

  8. Thread crazy Says:

    Oh what beautiful church. As we travel I too love to photograph churches, both rUral abd urban. The architure in St. Stan is breathtaking. Those stained glass windows are truly a work of art….from the heart. Great post Audrey.

  9. I’m so glad I found this post. Since I noticed you like visiting and photographing churches, I wondered if you had been to this one. My husband and I stopped in Winona on our honeymoon a few years ago and saw the basilica in the distance. I had to stop and check it out! No one was there, but we found an unlocked door and did some exploring. Your pictures remind me of how magnificent everything looked. We found stairs that kept going up, but couldn’t figure out how to get as high up as the dome.

    I’ve grown up going to baptist and evangelical free churches that don’t have near the beauty, history, and architecture that some of the old Lutheran and Catholic buildings do. I love it all, especially the stained glass, the detail, and the stories.

    • There’s something about an aged church, isn’t there? You obviously “get it.” Our exploration of St. Stan’s was limited given Mass was about to start. My husband grew up Catholic and he is always helpful in explaining things about the Catholic church to me.


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