|A statue of a Capuchin friar stands on the west side of St. Fidelis Catholic Church in Victoria, welcoming visitors to the historic Cathedral of the Plains.|
Anderson, Phil. "Cathedral of the Plains Opens its Majestic Doors to Travelers." Topeka Capital-Journal, 27 June 2002.
VICTORIA -- Weary travelers may have a hard time believing their eyes when they approach this small western Kansas town from Interstate 70.
On the horizon, the twin towers of St. Fidelis Catholic Church rise up from the wheat fields about a mile south of the heavily trafficked highway.
No, it isn't a mirage.
A brown highway sign near the I-70 Victoria exit designates the church as the historic Cathedral of the Plains, answering any immediate questions motorists may have about what they are seeing.
Most travelers, trying to get to their destination as quickly as possible, continue going at a steady 70 mph or more.
But a surprising number do turn off at Victoria, a community of 1,214 with deep German-Catholic roots.
Many, no doubt, feel drawn to the cathedral, wondering just how big it actually is, and what it holds for those who visit.
"We have about 16,000 tourists a year here," said Ethel Younger, who works in the church's parish office, across the street from the massive cathedral. "And the number seems to be growing."
On a mid-morning weekday visit last spring to the Cathedral of the Plains, whose address is 900 Cathedral, there were no other visitors.
But by summer, a steady stream of people are flowing in and out of the cathedral, every day of the week.
|Travelers who venture a little more than a mile south of Interstate 70 to Victoria find a place of solitude inside the large sanctuary of the St. Fidelis Catholic Church.|
The church, about 10 miles east of Hays, is made of 17 million pounds of native fencepost limestone. It was built between 1908 and 1911, with much of the construction done by parishioners.
The breathtaking sanctuary, which is open during daylight hours, includes an altar and pulpit from Italy, stained glass windows from Germany and intricately carved shrines from other areas of the world.
It has a Roman basilica design, with two rows of seven pillars -- 14 in all -- made of Vermont granite, supporting a windowed clerestory. Two transepts give the building the shape of a cross.
The building is 220 feet long and 110 feet wide at the transepts. The outer walls rise 27 feet, and the peak of the roof is 75 feet.
Facing the west, the twin towers are 141 feet high, and each has a 12-foot cross on its top.
To the south of the church is a two-story friary, completed in 1905, which is attached to the sacristy. It is for the Capuchin friars who work in St. Fidelis and neighboring parishes.
Those who see all of this and more are glad they took the time to stop, Younger said.
"I have a lot of tourists stop and say they tour churches in Germany and all over the world," she said, "and this would absolutely be their No. 1 choice."
Other visitors have found spiritual aid from their stop at the Cathedral of the Plains, she said. Many notes have come to the church office over the years to that effect, from travelers who have found comfort there in an hour of need.
"Some say they were really hurting, or they had something they were praying about," Younger said. "They felt like they were helped after spending time in this peaceful church."
|A rear-angle view, taken from the north side of the church facing west, reveals the massive size of the Cathedral of the Plains.|
Some visitors respond by sending in donations to help keep the church afloat.
"Our friends have been very generous to us," Younger said.
Many who make visits to the Cathedral of the Plains have heard about it from friends. Others are curious travelers willing to invest a half hour at the church, which makes a nice break in the long journey across the sparsely populated regions of western Kansas.
Younger said the church is glad to open its doors to travelers.
"We invite them," she said. "We've been so fortunate we've never had any vandalism where people steal anything. So far, we've never been forced to lock the doors."
While individuals get a lot out of visiting the Cathedral of the Plains, it is what they take with them that matters most, Younger said.
"You're taking the Lord with you," she said.
St. Fidelis Catholic Church is located about a mile south of Interstate 70 in Victoria, about 195 miles west of Topeka.
Reprinted with permission of the Topeka Capital-Journal.