Madison Loses its Cathedral
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Sept. 11, 2008
Severely damaged by arson three years ago and reduced to rubble over the summer, St. Raphael's Cathedral in Madison, Wis., still drew locals last weekend. The Diocese of Madison, owner of the sanctuary, permitted area residents to sift through the rubble for stone souvenirs of a church whose cornerstone was laid in 1854.
"Losing St. Raphael's was a blow to Madison," says Mark Gajewski, president of Historic Madison Inc. "It was kind of the glue that held that community together for years."
After the sandstone church's roof and sanctuary were destroyed in the March 2005 blaze, the diocese did not repair the building, instead announcing in June 2007 that it would build a larger church on the same site. Citing safety issues, in March the city issued a summons, and demolition began in June.
"Nobody wanted to see the church come down, especially because of an arson fire," says Brent King, diocese spokesman. "We had to make some tough decisions."
Church officials salvaged many architectural and decorative elements, including mosaics, stained-glass, and the 90-foot-tall steeple and bells, rebuilt in 2004. The new building has a "dateless timeline," according to the diocese's March 2008 statement. "Since the design for the new cathedral has not yet been developed, it is not known exactly how or where these elements will be used in the new cathedral or on its grounds." The public is invited to collect more stones this Saturday.
Locals lament the fact that St. Raphael's lacked city landmark designation, which may have saved the structure. "Most people assumed it had been landmarked," says Michael Bridgeman, board member of the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation. "The [Madison] Trust, like the entire preservation community, missed this one. It was an oversight. Even at the time of the fire, there was no real consideration of landmark status for what remained. In retrospect, we should have tried."
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