National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows
Design Architect: Richard Cummings
Project Architect: Maguolo & Quick
Landscape Architect: Emmet Layton
It is easily the most Space
Age-fabulous building in the region. Seated at the bottom of a hill
that forms a natural ampitheater, the main shrine of Our Lady of the
Snows is a complex arrangement of curved forms and overlapping,
intertwined spaces, a sort of High Googie architectural style.
The Shrine began in 1943 as a small corner devotional in a
chapel at the nearby St. Henry's monastary, home of the Oblate Fathers;
it was begun by Father Paul Schulte, who had returned from missionary
Alaska. Devotions to Mary under the title Our Lady of Snows date back
to the early Christian era of Rome. Pilgramage to the Belleville shrine
soon grew to the point that a dedicated building was needed; that too
was soon outgrown. 80 acres of land were purchased in 1958, and a
building campaign began which would span the 1960s and beyond, yielding
an inn, a retirement home, a church, and numerous devotional sites and
grottos around the grounds.
But the star attraction is the Main
Shrine Building, an
open-air shrine to Mary. It was designed
by Richard Cummings,
a 1952 Wash U graduate who designed the structure while working at the
St. Louis firm of Maguolo & Quick - presumably under the
of principal George J. Maguolo,
who had already worked on the New Cathedral, designing the 1939 rectory
belated sacristy, and overseeing installation of the mosaics
during Carinal Ritter's tenure. Maguolo was a
World War I vet who served in France, studied architecture at
Wash U, and practiced in New York, Detroit and finally St. Louis, where
he passed away in 1975. Maguolo and Quick worked on many
Catholic structures in the post-World War II era, scattered across the
(A third name associated with the Shrine is that
of Cincinnati architect John William Becker, who appears in the
listings of the Ravinia
Mosaic Company records at Saint Louis University; I have not
been able to find more info on his role at Our Lady of the Snows.
Becker lived from 1902 to 1974, practiced primarily with the firm
Garriott & Becker, retired in 1963, and may be best known as
the husband of Marion Rombauer Becker - primary author of The Joy of Cooking.
John Becker edited it for 25 years alongside his architectural
The Main Shrine faces a circle of fixed seating,
ampitheater built into the hill behind that can accomdate thousands
during large events. It was the largest open-air shrine in the world
when it opened.
The Main Shrine is elaborately decorated with gold
tile, curvacious shapes and a central statue of Mary that is
illuminated from above. Capping it off is a surprisingly literal
curvacious form, a stylized letter M for the shrine's namesake saint.
Inside, the Mary Chapel is a space that almost
defies comprehension. The chapel is a half-circle shaped room with the
center carved out. A full-height cylinder in the middle is the inside
face of Mary's sheltering space on the outside. On either side of the
cylinder, two walls of glass separate inside from outside and provide
natural lighting from above. The paintings are of the Northern Lights,
inspired by Father Schulte's journeys and based on the original
painting that began the Shrine.
In the back - or the front, depending on how you
first approach the building - two magnificent angels greet visitors.
They bear the hallmarks of the Emil Frei studio styles, and indeed,
Frei artist Rodney Winfield designed
the mosaics and, presumably, the Ave Maria angels as well.
As mentioned above, the ground are dotted with a
variety of other structures. Shown here are the Church, the hotel, the
Millenium Spire, and one of the grottos.
of the West pays a visit, with fine photos of the mosaic art