The Basilica of St. Francis Xavier

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Basilica of St. Francis Xavier in Dyersville was one of our stops on our trip to Northeast Iowa.  Almost all of the towns in that area, no matter how small, seem to have huge Catholic churches, almost as if they had a competition to see who could build the most impressive church.  

The Basilica was built in 1889 and can seat about 1,200.  The steeples stand 212 feet tall.  The doors are more than twice my height, very heavy, and sturdy.  I was shocked by the ornateness when I entered the church.
This is something one would expect to see in Europe, not Iowa! 
There are 64 stained glass windows in the church.  The one above is over the organ.
Above is another of the stained glass windows and a portion of the ceiling.
There is an interesting fresco in the front of the church. Behind the altars and on both sides of the front of the church there are many statues.  The confessionals and the benches all have very decorative woodwork.
Papa wanted to see what the acoustics were like, so I sang the Holy City in the empty Basilica.  I imagine it must truly sound majestic when the pipe organ plays and the 500-600 people whom the attendance records note sing hymns!
The architecture of the Basilica is magnificent, but it's not where I would picture Jesus who said "Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath no place to lay his head" spending his time. 
I think God feels more at home with the farmer in the planter who prays while he's working, with the lady who sings while she's making dinner in a little cottage, out in the welding shop with Papa when he asks for the Lord's wisdom in doing a job, or in any of your living rooms when you kneel in prayer at the end of the day or read the Bible together.
St. Francis Xavier worked as a missionary to Asia in the 1500s.  In India he evangelized the poor, lived with the poor, slept like the poor, and ate with the poor.  His favorite prayer was "Give me souls!" "In this life," he said, "we find our greatest comfort living in the midst of danger, that is, if we confront them solely for the love of God."


  1. I love your thoughts at the end of the post! I, being Catholic and all, struggle with this fact a lot. When I went to Hawaii, Catholic churches were SO different. Their beauty and simplicity attracted me so much! Anywho.

    I love learning about the history and architecture of old churches! I love your photographs, too. ;-)

  2. Thanks Gabriela! Neat that you've been to Hawaii! If you have photos it would be interesting to see someday if you're inclined to post about it :)

  3. It may be important to consider the history of the building and world events around the time of its construction.

    It was built primarily by and for poor German immigrants, who were able to buy the land after the english settlers were financially devastated in the Panic of 1857. The mass migrations from German areas in Europe -Germany as a nation being nonexistent until 1871- to the United States started in the 1830s, but peaked in the 1850s and 1880s, with almost 2.5 million immigrants. Many of which were attempting to escape economic and political turmoil at home, to say nothing of the hazardous journey. In the German states, the shift from a farm-based economy to a mass production economy meant the loss of family farms and high unemployment in the cities, and no small amount of misery and despair. After arriving in the United States, and typically speaking only German, they faced discrimination. (Along with the Chinese, distrust of Catholics was a major factor in the Immigration Act of 1882, which restricted undesirable people from entering the country.)

    If it looks like a church from Europe, it is likely because the people who built it had just arrived from there, having recently been uprooted by modernization and new trends, and were trying to keep their cultural traditions alive, amongst not particularly friendly neighbors.

    I suspect that the wealthy, successful, and well established descendants of those poor farmers may be reasonably held to a different standard, but stepping out of my own shoes, I could see why they would build something familiar.

    1. Thank you for the very interesting piece of history! The late 1800s is an era in which my historical knowledge is rather limited, so it is good to learn more from a well-informed source.

      I think you are correct that the builders probably wanted to build something like what they had in their home country. Even some of the towns in that area of Iowa are named after places in Europe. It's a very interesting area in the state to visit; almost every town has a very impressive Catholic church.