The Shrine of St. Joseph is a
beautiful old historic church in downtown St. Louis and the only example of
Baroque church architecture in the St. Louis area. It is also the site of
the only authenticated miracle in the Midwest. The church has its beginnings
when the Jesuits founded a parish to serve the German Catholic working class
population living in the surrounding area in 1843.
The cornerstone for
the original St. Joseph's Church was laid in 1844 on land donated by Mrs.
Ann Biddle, daughter of John Mullanphy, St. Louis' first philanthropist. A
substantial addition was made in 1865-66 and is often referred to as the
second St. Joseph's Church. Another major addition, referred to as the third
St. Joseph's, was begun in 1881 when a new fašade and twin towers were
added. In 1862 a large parish school, staffed by the Sisters of Notre Dame,
was built nearby to care for the many children of the area.
The original church
was designed in Classic Revival style by George Purvis, a St. Louis
architect, and faced 11th Street and had 150-foot spire. By 1865 the
structure, was judged inadequate to meet the demands of an expanding
congregation. In 1866 the church was enlarged and changed to face Biddle
Street and the interior was made more elaborate. A Baroque facade and twin
flanking towers were added in 1881 giving the church its final dimensions
and a seating capacity for 2400 worshippers. Designed by Adolphus Druiding,
an architect who worked in both St. Louis and Cleveland, these last
additions are in the Baroque Revival style, a 19th century revival of the
European Baroque style (1600-1750), that favors of verticality, irregular
shapes and highly sculptural decoration. The towers were reduced in height
in 1955 due to structural weakness.
The church's true
treasure is the decor of its sanctuary. Every plastered surface is covered
with decorative paintings. Ceilings are painted with floral designs and the
pendentiyes with various religious symbols. These designs, as all others
throughout the building, are in soft, almost pastel colors set against white
background. The Shrine's beautiful altar in the Italian Renaissance style
was carved in wood by Bueschers in Chicago, a company renowned for its
religious artwork, and installed in 1867. The Shrine's delicately carved
pulpit was designed and hand cut by a Jesuit brother who was stationed at
the church in its early years. Stained glass windows that are more than 150
years old grace the church.
In 1864 Ignatius
Strecker was dying from an injury he incurred while working at a local soap
factory. His wife attended a sermon by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, a
famous Jesuit missionary on the Blessed Peter Claver, who was held to have
great intercessory powers with God. Mrs. Strecker convinced her husband to
seek the help of Peter Claver and he managed to drag himself to the church.
He arrived just as Father Weninger was blessing the congregation with a
relic of Peter Claver. Strecker was allowed him to kiss the relic and
immediately seemed to experience a resurgence of strength. He began to heal
and within a few days he returned to his job, and in a few months he was
restored to full health. In 1887 the miracle was formally declared authentic
by Cardinal Bianchi in Rome, and was chosen as one of the two required
miracles in the canonization process of Peter Claver, who became a Saint the
following year. A statue of Saint Peter Claver was presented to the church
by the descendants of Ignatius Strecker in gratitude for the miracle he
performed for Strecker.
In 1866 a massive
cholera epidemic swept St. Louis killing 140 people each day. St. Joseph's
Church held 10-15 funerals a day as a result of the epidemic. Father Weber,
the pastor of St. Joseph's, called the parishioners together in a vow that
if St. Joseph would intercede for them, they would erect a monument in his
honor. The congregants pledged $4,000, a large sum for the times, for
construction of the monument. No one from any family signing the pledge died
from cholera, and the parish's monument of thanksgiving, the Altar of
Answered Prayers, was installed in 1887.
the late 1970s there were plans to tear down the church until a group called
the Friends of St. Joseph was formed and worked to save the Shrine. Since it
was formed, the group has raised thousands of dollars for a massive
restoration of the building. The ongoing restoration has taken the interior
from a state of advanced decay to a spectacular reflection of the Victorian
Visiting the Shrine
of St. Joseph
Tours are available
after Sunday Mass or by appointment
There is no charge to visit the Shrine of St.
Location: The Shrine of St. Joseph is located
in downtown St. Louis.
N 38 38.226
W 90 11.577
Learn more about the
St. Louis area.
of St. Joseph - Official site of the
Shrine of St. Joseph.