The building of the current cathedral was instigated by Archbishop John Ireland in 1904. At Ireland’s direction, the archdiocese commissioned well-known French Beaux-Arts architect Emmanuel Louis Masqueray, who was also the chief architect of the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, and construction began in 1906. The new Cathedral needed to be “a modern building, perfect in its acoustics, in its sanitary, ventilating, heating and other details”¦,” according to a peer of Masqueray. Masqueray’s open design allows visitors unobstructed views of the altar and pulpit. Masqueray unfortunately died in 1917, having completed only a few designs for the interior, which has been filled by other designers in the subsequent decades.
The Cathedral is set dramatically on Summit Hill overlooking the city of Saint Paul. The Cathedral’s Beaux Arts architecture, inspired by the churches and cathedrals of France, is characterized by rounded domes and arches, a symmetrical cross floor plan and clean, straight lines. Decorative elements are grouped at certain points around the Cathedral-the façade, towers, sides, entrances and dome. The Cathedral’s most prominent feature is a 120-foot-wide dome made of curved steel beams, covered with a clay tile surface and overlaid with copper. A copper-clad lantern, approximately 30 feet tall, sits on top of the dome. From the base to the very top of the lantern, the Cathedral stands 306 feet tall.
The church body is made of granite stone from St. Cloud, Minnesota, in the shape of a Greek cross with nearly equal length arms. Twin 150-foot towers flank the main façade. The three front entrances rest under a monumental arch, which also frames a large rose window.
The interior is illuminated by twenty-four stained glass windows featuring angelic choirs. There is also a rose window in the transept designed by Charles Connick. Electric lighting was installed in 1940.
The cathedral has statues of the four evangelists in the four corners of its main pier. The life of Saint Paul is honored by a bronze baldachin, as well as massive bronze Te Deum and Magnificat grilles. The cathedral also has six chapels dedicated to the patron saints of the European ethnic groups that settled the area around the city: St. Anthony for the Italians, St. John the Baptist for the French Canadians, St. Patrick for the Irish, St. Boniface for the Germans, Saints Cyril and Methodius for the Slavs; and St. Therese of Lisieux for the missionaries.