St. Raphael’s Cathedral

Built: 1857 – 1861

Located at the intersection of W. 2nd and Bluff Streets

St. Raphael’s Cathedral is John Mullany’s first notable design accomplishment in Dubuque, although the construction may have caused him more grief than triumph with the Financial Panic of 1857 and the tightening of financial support to achieve his initial design. The cathedral is modeled after Magdalen College in Oxford, England. The cornerstone was laid in July of 1857 and the building was completed in 1861. It was over three times larger than its predecessor and witnessed its first Mass, offered by Bishop Loras two months before his death, on Christmas 1857. The cathedral received its formal dedication and blessing on July 7, 1861.

Old Postcard of St. Raphael’s Cathedral

Interior of the Cathedral (circa 1886)

Mullany’s design for the cathedral was 83 feet across the front, with a limestone façade and brick sides. The steeple and tower area were to be 243 feet high. The architectural style is predominately Gothic. The building’s most unusual feature is the lancet window at the base of the tower. Mullany also designed the elaborate altar screen that still exists today, though substantially modified.  There are two entrances at the side of the tower within the body of the building. In Mullany’s original design these two entrance walls were to have terminated in their own gables, with high pinnacles at each of the corners. Mullany also had projected a tall, thin spire roof, but a more abridged 243-foot-high square tower was eventually added in 1876 through a fund-raising effort.

Close up of the Cathedral Screen (circa 2016)

By May 1871, the fund-raising effort to complete the tower had only raised $5,000 of a projected $30,000. In 1872-73, when it was realized that the Cathedral’s foundations would not support a tower of Mullany’s intended height, construction was again halted. Mullany ceased to be associated with the Cathedral at this point and went on to other projects. The 1876 revision of the tower was topped with four pinnacles, instead of Mullany’s planned steeple of cut limestone.