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.
Heritage Works is excited to announce its “Architect of the Month” feature. For the next twelve months, we will showcase a different architect on our website and all of our social media outlets. Each featured architect is noted as contributing a prominent and lasting legacy to the landscape of the Dubuque area. These monthly postings offer the public an opportunity to learn more about Dubuque architecture, preservation, and the efforts to maintain our unique treasures. It is likely that you have traveled the streets of downtown Dubuque and noticed a unique building or an interesting ornate detail of a building and wanted to learn more. Hopefully our highlighted architects and their unique landmarks will provide a context for your next stroll through downtown Dubuque. Follow along with us as we explore the rich architectural landscape of Dubuque through the various architects that built these landmarks nestled between the bluffs and the Mississippi River.
Heritage Works is proud to showcase the July Architect of the Month, John Mullany, architect of St. Raphael’s Cathedral, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, New Melleray Abbey Monastery, and the Town Clock.
John Mullany (1813 – 1884), is considered one of Dubuque’s finest architects with his distinctive use of Gothic Revival style of architecture. The Gothic Revival style is part of the mid-19th century picturesque and Romantic Movement in architecture, reflecting the public’s taste for buildings inspired by medieval design. The most commonly identifiable feature of the Gothic Revival style is the pointed arch, used for windows, doors, and decorative elements like porches, dormers, or roof gables. Gothic Revival came to America from England, particularly through church architects who were strongly influenced by popular architects, such as, Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin. Pugin promoted the idea that a Gothic style church was the only suitable structure for Christian worship. He was the architect of many Gothic Revival English and Irish churches of the mid-nineteenth century.
Mullany was born on July 30, 1813 in Cahir, County Tipperary in Ireland. Mullany’s father was an architect/builder, so it was natural that Mullany grew to excel in the trade. Perhaps most influential to Mullany’s life as an architect came in 1840 when he and his wife moved to England where he worked and studied under Augustus Pugin for approximately four years. Pugin’s Gothic Revival influence is quite evident in Mullany’s buildings in Dubuque, (St. Mary’s, St. Raphael’s Cathedral, and New Melleray Abbey). Mullany immigrated to the United States in 1847 and moved to Dubuque, Iowa in 1857, initially joining the Leeman and Keenan firm of building. Of Mullany’s three known surviving Gothic Revival structures in Dubuque, St. Mary’s is Mullany’s masterwork; his best example of the Gothic Revival style and Augustus Pugin’s influence on the design.