The Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour is a prominent architectural landmark in Faribault, a small city located fifty miles south of Minneapolis. Faribault’s founders platted the city in 1855 as a grid set at the confluence of the Cannon and Straight rivers. The Cathedral, rendered in the Gothic Revival style, was consecrated in 1867. The complex now occupies a half block at the corner of Second Avenue and Sixth Street Northwest across the street from Central Park. The limestone building is significant as the first home to the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota and is one of many structures in the area erected by or in honor of church leader and humanitarian Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple (1822–1901).
Bishop Whipple refused requests to locate the head of the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota in St. Paul or Minneapolis, instead choosing the rural town of Faribault as the site of the new cathedral and a series of educational buildings. The church commissioned prominent architect James Renwick Jr., known for his design of Grace Episopal Church (1843–1846) and St. Patrick’s Cathedral (1853–1879) in New York City. At Faribault, Renwick created a small-scale Gothic Revival church with a cruciform plan: the nave and the chancel form the body and the transept arm is slightly asymmetrical, with the tower room on one side of the nave (measuring 20 feet square) and a pipe-organ room with choir on the opposite side of the crossing (measuring 22 feet square). The nave seats 600 people and measures 45 feet wide by 90 feet long. The church is composed of cut limestone acquired at the Fall Creek Quarry, east of the city, with an arched, timber-truss ceiling supporting a steeply pitched roof. The engaged timber buttresses divide the nave into seven longitudinal bays.
The polygonal chancel, at the east end of the building, measures 35 by 45 feet. This extension is composed of a connected series of pointed arches with lancet-arched, stained glass compositions in each opening and exposed timber trusses above. A white, carved stone altar depicts Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. Consistent with the work of Renwick, the cathedral exhibits features of the Gothic Revival throughout, particularly in the prolific use of the lancet arch, trefoils, and quatrefoils visible on the pews, window casements, and pulpit. Windows in the church are inscribed with the names of donors and patrons. Other architects involved in the design include Stephen Congdon, supervising architect, Robert C. Wiley, local supervising architect from St. Paul, and C.N. Danielas of Faribault. Mason Edward Goodman of Yarmouth, England, directed the stonework.
Bishop Whipple laid the cornerstone of the cathedral on July 16, 1862, declaring the building as “the first Cathedral of the American Church erected in the United States.” The Bishop began construction of the Seabury Divinity Hall the next day and planned for a series of educational facilities in the city, including St. Mary’s Hall for educating daughters of the clergy, the Shattuck School for boys, and Seabury Divinity Hall. Whipple also advocated on behalf of the rights of Native Americans in Minnesota and was known as “Straight Tongue,” for his honest and fair approach towards the tribes. Completion of the cathedral was substantially delayed by the U.S. Civil War and the Dakota War of 1862. These wars and other factors led to uneven funding for the new cathedral; the design and construction process was slow and relied upon the contributions and labor of local parishioners. Episcopalian Bishop Kemper finally consecrated the cathedral in 1867 and opened the building for worship.
The Romanesque Revival Guild Hall, designed by New Haven architect William H. Jewett, was added to the complex in 1893–1894. It contains two fireplace mantels designed by Cass Gilbert. In 1902, the Cathedral of our Merciful Savior in Faribault was modified with the completion of the bell tower by the Boston architectural firm Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson. The tower was erected on a foundation completed during the original construction of the cathedral; the square room initially built on this foundation was removed to make way for the tower. The completed tower was dedicated to the memory of Bishop Whipple after his death in 1901. The belfry openings are rendered in stone, with crenelated parapets and finials defining the upper corners of the structure. Inscribed stone blocks on the exterior of the tower memorialize the life and work of Bishop Whipple.
Bird, C. P. and Charles W. Nelson, “Cathedral of Our Merciful Savior,” Rice County, Minnesota. National Register of Historic Place Inventory-Nomination Form, 1979. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
Whipple, Henry Benjamin. Address of Rt. Rev. H.B. Whipple, D.D.: Delivered in the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour, Faribault, 25th Anniversary of His Election as Bishop of Minnesota, Feast of St. Barnabas, June 11th, 1884.Philadelphia: McCalla and Stavely, 1884.
Whipple, Henry Benjamin, Lights and Shadows of a Long Episcopate; Being Reminiscences and Recollections of the Right Reverend Henry Benjamin Whipple, D.D., LL. D., Bishop of Minnesota.New York: Macmillan, 1899.