Kansas Destinations: St Fidelis The Cathedral of The Plains

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You may think a church known as “Cathedral of the Plains” in Kansas might be a great structure, and yes, it is. You might also expect to find it located in a large city, but you won’t. The huge church with the regal nickname is in Victoria, Kansas, a humble farming residential district about two hundred miles west of Topeka. The location of the church is not the only strange thing about it.

One thing, it is not a cathedral. It is just a parish church known as St. Fidelis, in a region of just about 1,200 residents. Nonetheless, the prodigious house of worship could seat about 1,100 people. When it was completely built in 1911, it was the biggest church west of the Mississippi River, and continued to be so for many years.

The very first migrants in the region were British farmers who settled there in the 1870s. They called the town Victoria to honor their queen. A couple of years later, immigrants from Russia called Volga-Germans also came. The Russians stayed, but the Kansas plains did not match the English people, and by the later part of 1800s nearly all of them had returned to England or went to other parts of the United States.

The Cathedral of the Plains is a landmark in Kansas, huge even with today’s standards. The towering twin steeples of the church add to its gigantic silhouette. Every steeple is 141 feet high, crowned by a 12-foot-high cross, and very visible from the Interstate 70 several miles out north.

Since it can be viewed from I-70, the church draws the attention of numerous highway travelers. It is figured that close to 16,000 folks annually catch a break from the monotony of the Kansas flatlands by pausing for a while just to see the church. As might be anticipated, the summer months are the busiest, despite the church being open year-round.

image via Wikipedia

Some discover more than a mere visual diversion from a travel to Kansas, as stated by the parish staff. Occasionally, people who struggle with spiritual or emotional hurt write to the church to let them know how they have experienced some emotional comfort inside the church building. They sensed relief after staying for some time inside the peaceful church structure, according to a staff member.

When people walk into St. Fidelis, they are awestruck by its cavernous, cathedral-like interior and its gentle beauty. It appears even larger inside than it does outside. When coming in the sanctuary, one has the feeling that the building, as if by magic, grows half once again as big as its outside appearance.

The interior decoration is kindred to a Roman basilica–having two rows of granite pillars, 7 in each row, bearing the clerestory with its stained-glass windows. The apex of the church roof is seventy-five feet high, and the walls under the clerestory are about 3 stories tall. The church’s altar and pulpit are hand-carved in Italy from Carrara marble. The stained-glass windows were imported from Germany, and numerous small shrines and statues were crafted in several regions around the world.

2008 was the year the people of Kansas voted that the Cathedral of the Plains to be one of the state’s “eight wonders,” and the American government announced it a building of “architectural significance,” putting the church upon the National Register of Historic Places.

References:

Cathedral of the Plains: a history and pictorial guide of St. Fidelis Church, Victoria, Kansas by Gilmary Tallman

Diamond jubilee of the dedication of St. Fidelis Church “Cathedral of the Plains,” Victoria, Kansas, Sunday, May 25, 1986 by Ethel Younger and Francis Schippers

National geographic, Volume 101 pp 444, 474,480

Roads: driving America’s Great Highways, 2000 by Larry McMurtry

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