5 Photos/5 Facts: Inside the Old Cathedral

How much do you know about the buildings you pass in Downtown St. Louis every day? With a historic city comes landmark buildings with stories to tell. In the new 5 Photos/5 Facts series from #mySTL, find out more about the structures you see in St. Louis, starting with the “Basilica of Saint Louis, King… the Parish of St. Louis”—or as the locals know it, the Old Cathedral.


From its founding in 1764 until roughly 1816, Old Cathedral was the only church in St. Louis across any denomination. Old Cathedral is the first permanent church in the Gateway City, as well as the first cathedral this side of the Mississippi River.


The Old Cathedral St. Lousians know today is not the first structure for the Parish of Saint Louis—or even the second, or the third. The original building, explained by the organization as “little more than a shed,” lasted fewer than 15 years, with a larger log church opening in 1776. Fifty-five years later, the log church was both too small and in too poor of shape, and the creation of a new building kicked off. With $63,360.85 raised for construction, the cornerstone was laid in 1831 and the project was completed in 1834. The current structure was completed less than 20 years later in 1853.


With the population rising, a single Sunday Mass couldn’t fit everyone during the mid-1880s. It is reported that from 1834 until 1843, Old Cathedral held seven Sunday Masses to fit everyone and accommodate for the variety of languages spoken by the residents including French, German and English.


Residents today recognize the green space surrounding the Old Cathedral as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. However, when the Old Cathedral was built, other buildings were nearby, as the first meeting linked to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial was held in 1933. Old Cathedral is the only building in the park’s path that was not claimed for land, explains the organization, and now resides on the edge of the park grounds.


A full restoration of the space was completed in 2016. The multi-million dollar project was not aimed to update the space but rater bring back the pristine look of the Old Cathedral in the late 1800s.

About the author

Julia Cain

Julia Cain is a St. Louis reporter and blogger.