Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

St. Mary’s of Melrose, Part II July 17, 2011

STARK CHURCHES appeal to me. The ones with the simple wooden cross, the white clapboard siding, the time-worn pews settled upon plain plank floors.

But the ornate houses of worship likewise snag my soul with crosses of gold, walls of brick and gleaming, carved pews.

One of the many ornate carvings at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Melrose.

I am most comfortable with, most accustomed to, the unadorned churches of the Lutherans, my religious heritage. We keep things simple. No cluster of burning candles. No wafting incense. No pools of holy water. Minimal, if any, gold.

Perhaps for that reason, when I step into an historic Catholic church, I feel like I’ve entered a foreign land. I am often awed by the opulence, by the details that visually overwhelm me.

The side aisle on the left leads to an ornate altar in St. Mary's which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

That’s exactly how I felt upon entering St. Mary’s Catholic Church of Melrose, featured here in an earlier post. Overwhelmed. But good overwhelmed. Because I could not possibly present all of the images I wanted to share with you in a single post, here are the remainder.

No matter your religious affiliation, you simply have to appreciate a place like St. Mary’s. What beauty. What art. What history. What heavenly splendor.

This was the top or bottom of something. Can't recall what. But it sure is stunning.

Look at this gorgeous, carved door, will you?

Golden statues. Beautiful.

Just look at this detailed side altar. I could have spent hours in St. Mary's.

And then I discovered these collection baskets hanging from a rack. We Lutherans don't have wicker baskets with long handles. These contrast so sharply with the the ornateness in the church and that is why I so appreciated this grouping.

St. Mary's Catholic Church stands strong as a fortress in Melrose, next to the turkey plant, its towering steeples visible from nearby Interstate 94 in west central Minnesota.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Hail St. Mary’s of Melrose June 26, 2011

The steeples of St. Mary's Catholic Church of Melrose.

I STOOD THERE. Just stood there. For minutes, taking in the glorious splendor before me.

The cornflower blue of the arched ceiling. The pillars. Pews—endless carved pews stretching from the fonts of holy water to the steps leading to the altar.

A view from the back of St. Mary's Catholic Church looking toward the main altar.

I didn't even try to count the hand-carved pews that grace this church. But they are many.

A stone font holding holy water at the back of the church.

Such beauty. Such holiness. Such wonderment.

Opulent, stained glass windows bedecking the sanctuary like jewels on a crown.

One of too many stained glass windows to count.

Statues fit for the finest of museums.

This statue of Jesus and Mary sits at the back of the church.

And then I moved, not sure which direction to go, wondering how I could possibly see every detail. Prayerful hands. Flickering candles. The frayed ends of the bell pull. Gold-leaf stenciled crosses. Worn wood. Angels in flight above the altar.

Clustered candles of prayer at St. Mary's.

Bell ropes dangle by the balcony stairway. Two stairways lead to the balcony.

A gold-leafed stenciled cross borders a side wall of the sanctuary.

My eyes swept across the Church of St. Mary’s, or St. Mary’s Catholic Church of Melrose. Choose the moniker you prefer.

The name and the denomination of this 1898 church mattered not to me. I cared only for the heavenly feel of this holy place.

How could I not be impressed by this multi-steepled house of worship next to the turkey plant and soaring above the landscape 100 miles northwest of the Twin Cities?

How many times, if you travel Interstate 94 in central Minnesota, have you noticed those steeples while zipping by Melrose, but never taken the time to drive into town? Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993, this Catholic church is worth a stop if you appreciate craftsmanship, art, history and reverent beauty beyond belief.

The church rises above the land, defining Melrose.

The 113-year-old building was constructed by the parishioners of St. Boniface and renamed St. Mary’s when St. Boniface and St. Patrick’s parishes merged in 1958.

History runs deep here. You will see it in the hitching post out front, smell it in the incense, hear it in the creak of steps leading to the locked balcony.

And if you listen closely, you can almost hear the whispered prayers of those who have come here on bended knees to lift up their sorrows to the Lord.


I COULD NOT POSSIBLY share my many photos of St. Mary’s with you in one blog post. Please check back for more images in a future post.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling