Buildings matter. For a thousand years, cities in the Western world built cathedrals to bring glory to God and civic pride to their communities. At the dawn of the third millennium, we build stadiums.
One hundred years ago, there was a building boom of cathedral churches in the Twin Cities: St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral (1910), the Basilica of St. Mary (1914), the St. Paul Cathedral (1915) and Hennepin Avenue United Methodist (1916). Almost exactly a century later, the Twin Cities have seen the addition of TCF Bank Stadium (2009), Target Field (2010), CHS Field (2015) and U.S. Bank Stadium (2016).
How did we move from building cathedrals to building stadiums?
The Rev. Lucien Galtier came to bring Christianity to the Upper Mississippi River Valley in 1841. He encamped at Pig’s Eye Landing, a settlement named after fur trapper Pierre “Pig’s Eye” Parrant. Galtier built a log chapel that became the first St. Paul Cathedral.
NFL football came to the Upper Mississippi River Valley in 1961. The Minnesota Vikings settled in an erector set baseball stadium and captured the region’s imagination when fur trapper Bud Grant returned from an expedition in Canada.
The church and the Vikings grew rapidly in their popularity, and eventually built two of the most prominent buildings in our area: The St. Paul Cathedral and U.S. Bank Stadium. These edifices have much in common.
The stadium cost $1.1 billion to build. Estimates are that in today’s dollars, the cathedral would cost about the same.
The cathedral is named after the Apostle Paul, the great Christian missionary who wrote, “The love of money is the root of all evil.” The stadium is named after U.S. Bank, which will pay $220 million for the honor.
The word “cathedral” comes from the Latin cathedra, which means “seat.” Every cathedral has a Bishop’s Seat where only the bishop can sit. The stadium has premium seat licenses that allow anyone with a wheelbarrow full of money to sit wherever they want.
The St. Paul Cathedral has three large doors that provide the main entrance for parishioners. These doors honor the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The stadium has gates that welcome ticket holders in honor of modern-day gods: Verizon, Ecolab, Pentair and Polaris.
The cathedral’s main seating area is called the nave. “Nave” comes from the Latin navis, which means “ship.” U.S. Bank Stadium is designed to look like a Viking ship.
The cathedral is held up by four pillars representing the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Vikings are supported by four Wilfs: Zygi, Mark, Jonathan and Leonard.
The cathedral has 24 stained-glass windows depicting angelic choirs that have not killed any birds (that we know of).
There have been 13 bishops in the history of the cathedral. The Vikings have had Bill Bishop, Desmond Bishop, Keith Bishop and, of course, Christian Ponder.
The cathedral was visited by Eugenio Pacelli two years before his election to the papacy. U.S. Bank Stadium will be visited by Roger Goodell two years before his removal as NFL commissioner. Pacelli took the name Pius the XII when he became pope in 1939. U.S. Bank will host Super Bowl LII in 2018.
In U.S. Bank Stadium, a Hail Mary is a long pass made in desperation hoping for a miracle. Same at the cathedral.
Sermons in the cathedral recount the suffering of the ancient Israelites and the struggles of the early church. Purple fans recount their four Super Bowl losses, Gary Anderson’s miss against Atlanta, Brett Favre’s late interception in the Superdome and Teddy Bridgewater’s season-ending injury.
The St. Paul Cathedral and U.S. Bank Stadium are two great buildings. But since Fran Tarkenton’s amazing debut against the Bears in the home opener in 1961, Christianity in America has been in a slow but steady decline. Attendance is dropping; churches are closing and the religiously unaffiliated, or “nones,” are the fastest-growing segment of the religious landscape.
The popularity of the NFL, in comparison, is at an all-time high. On any given Sunday, more people in the U.S. are playing fantasy football than are attending church. Everybody wants to get on the Vikings bandwagon. Twin Cities Orthopedics has bought naming rights for the new Vikings headquarters and practice facility in Eagan. (Isn’t that a little bit like Hazelden buying ads for Grey Goose Vodka?)
Sports and religion have switched places in American culture. And so we build stadiums and not churches. Is there anything wrong with that? Not by itself. I am glad that we are not a cold Omaha, and I will be there on Sept. 18 for the first regular-season home game. Football is fun.
But Christianity and the cathedrals it inspired have meant something to American life that we forget at our peril. The NFL has very little to teach us about forgiveness, empathy, compassion and humility, much less the Apostle Paul’s triple option of faith, hope and love. Even a billion-dollar Viking ship won’t make us forget the Al and Alma’s party boat scandal. Where do we learn our values if not in our churches and synagogues and mosques?
U.S. Bank Stadium is the new cathedral in town. Zygi Wilf is sitting in the Bishop’s Seat. The ship has sailed. Is that OK?
The Rev. Peter Geisendorfer-Lindgren is senior pastor at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Maple Grove.