Welcome to the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in the Midwest. The interior decoration was completely repainted and restored 2000-2001, and new 24 carat gold and silver leaf was applied. This brochure is designed to assist you in your visit, and answer some questions regarding this great church. (Our other brochure provides some of the history, further explanations, and photos of the Basilica).
Begin your walk at the back of the center aisle of the Basilica. At your left and right are the two confessionals, built by the Dubuque Altar Company and installed in 1897. They are carved butternut wood. Above, on the underside balcony ceiling, is a stylized Greek cross. This is a reproduction of an 1858 decoration from Dyersville’s first small, 2nd floor, Catholic Church, which was two blocks to the east near the river.
The restored center aisle, installed in 1998, is the first floor of its kind in the nation to combine the new technologies of epoxy based terrazzo, and computer generated water jet laser cutting for the brass molds. The symbols in the floor are, from the back of church, three shields of coats of arms of: The Archdiocese of Dubuque, Pope Pius XII, The Basilica, and The Papal Insignia of the Tiara and Keys. As one walks down the aisle from the back, the “story” reads: Here in the (1.) Archdiocese of Dubuque. (2.) Pope Pius XII named St. Francis Xavier Church (3.) a Basilica, making it (4.) a Papal Church.
In the cross at the end of the aisle are five marble pieces, symbolizing the five wounds of Christ. The marble is from the floor of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Under the center piece is also a chip from the Grotto at Lourdes, France.
As you proceed down the center aisle, note that the main body (nave) of the Basilica is 66 feet wide and 140 feet long. The raised sanctuary area is an additional 35 feet deep. The Basilica nave seats 1,000.
Of the 64 stained glass windows and transoms, installed in 1889, ten contain pictures of the life of Christ and His saints. The rest are made up of geometrical designs. Beginning from the back, on the right (north) side wall are: St. Joseph and the Child Jesus working; St. Francis of Assisi receiving the stigmata and St. Helen; St. Boniface baptizing the Germans after cutting down their sacred tree; and near the front St. John Berchmans and St. Aloysius Gonzaga.
On the left (south) side wall, from the back are: St. Stanislas Kostka receiving Communion from an angel; St. Kunegunda and Our Lady of Consolation, the patroness of the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg; St. Francis Xavier (This window is interested for a number of reasons. St. Francis Xaviers, 1506-1552, was an early Jesuit and Missionary in the Far East, and is the patron saint of this church. As he preached in India, the parish ordered a window depicting Francis Xavier preaching to the “Indians”. The artist made them Native Americans! Also note the style of St. Francis’ hair, mustache and beard – very much the style of 1889.) The last window on this side, near the front depicts St. Philomena and Mary Immaculate.
At the very top arch of all the windows is pictured an ecclesiastical symbol. Beginning at the back, on the north wall again, are: (in the loft) Noah’s Ark; the monstrance; the heart of love, with symbols of faith and hope below; the pelican – a symbol of Christ; IHS – an abbreviation of Jesus; the Dove of the Holy Spirit; the Christian’s final Crown, with wheat and grapes below – symbol of the Eucharist; and the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
From the back, on the south wall, are: (in the loft) the keys of Peter; a censer; symbols of the Passion; the Lamb of God; AM for Ave Maria; the Cahlice and Host; the cross with Alpha and Omega; and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
In the Sanctuary proper are two windows: to the left of the altar, the Adoration of the Magi (3 Wise Men), and to the right, the right, the Resurrection.
All the Decorative Painting in the church was done 1904-1905 by Alphonse and Lottie Brielmaier, a brother and sister team of artists from Milwaukee. Their work was “touched up” or partially covered in 1930 and 1955, then completely restored 2000-2001.
Along the side arches of the Central Ceiling are paintings representing 8 of the Nine Choirs of Angels playing musical instruments. Under each is a Latin phrase, which begins a hymn or psalm of praise to God. (The ninth Choir is represented by the cherub heads in the ceiling decoration.) The rest of the ceiling and wall frescos are in geometrical, wheat flower and grapevine patters.
The Upper Decorative Band on the walls is composed of stylized crosses and stars, symbolizing the Incarnation, the coming of Christ. The lower band above the wainscoting, contains round symbols under the windows, passion flowers, silver crosses and dogwood blossoms. (In legend, Christ was crucified on a dogwood tree; the red blossoms symbolize His divinity; the blue, His humanity.) The first symbol on the north is a triple flower symbolizing the Trinity; the last on the south symbolizes Christ the King. In between, the other symbols have the Latin words of St. Paul’s hymn from Philippians 2: “Christ became obedient, for us, even unto death, death on a Cross.” This sentence ties into the sanctuary arch.”
In the central part of the Sanctuary, we see the Sanctuary Arch. Ascending on each side of the arch are Our Lady and St. John, more dogwood blossoms, angels carrying symbols of the Passion, and the Latin words from I Cor. 5-7 completing the sentence from the band above the wainscoting: “And thus, Christ our Passover is sacrificed.” At the top of the arch are Easter Lilies, with the Latin words: “He is risen, Alleluia!”
In the center of the sanctuary is the High Altar on Italian marble and Mexican onyx, which rests on a solid rock foundation reaching up from the basement. On either side of the altarpiece are brass crosses containing small relics of various saints.
Above the Altar is an 1873, woodcarved crucifix, from the old St. Francis Xavier Church, which formerly stood to the south of the Basilica. The crucifix was made by an early parishioner from a walnut tree on his farm.
Over the altar and crucifix is a fifty-two feet high baldachin, or canopy, of carved butternut, richly decorated with pinnacles, gables, niches and angels. This altar piece and the side altars were designed by a third Brielmaier sibling, J.E. Brielmaier. The finishing work was done by their father, C.A. Brielmaier.
Above the baldachin, on the ceiling of the apse, is the large central painting of the Church Triumphant, celebrating the heavenly liturgy of Revelations 5: the Adoration of the Mystical Lamb of God (Christ). To the right are Old Testament saints, led by John the Baptist. One can identify Noah holding the Ark, David with his harp, Melichisedech with bread and wine, Moses with a tablet of the Commandments, and the Three Magi with their gifts. In this second grouping, the second figure, added in 2000, is Msgr. M.M. Hoffmann, the pastor when the church was named a Basilica in 1956.
To the left are New Testament saints, led by the Blessed Virgin Mary. One can identify Saints; George with his spear, Lawerence with his gridiron, Stephen with stones, Joseph with the lily, Rose of Lima with a crown of roses, Peter with keys, Paul with sword, Henry the King, Boniface, Francis of Assisi, Francis Xavier, Catherine, and Cecilia playing the organ. In this New Testament grouping, the second figure, without a halo, is Fr. George W. Heer, pastor of the parish when the painting was done.
On the south sanctuary wall is a painting of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, symbolizing the Church Militant on earth; on the North Wall, symbolizing the Church Suffering; the souls in purgatory being received into Heaven. Around the bottom of the sanctuary wall is a painted faux curtain, symbolizing the curtain of the Temple which was rent at the death of Christ.
To the right and left of the High Altar are the Basilica Symbols: the ceremonial Umbrella and the Basilica Bell, both on poles so they can be carried in procession.
Hanging in the center of the sanctuary is the ornate, brass 1887 Sanctuary Lamp, proclaiming the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the tabernacle. To the front of the sanctuary is the recent smaller altar of marbleized wood, so Mass may be celebrated facing the people.
If you turn your back to the sanctuary, and look toward the Choir Loft, you immediately see the 1959 Rose Window, with its Native American designs, and the 1971, 37-rank Wicks Organ. The painting of the Last Supper on the balcony front, was done by Lotie Brielmaier in 1905, and formerly hung above the High Altar. In the east wall arches on either side of the loft, are paintings of more groups of angels with musical instruments.
Around the interior walls of the Basilica are: 14 Stations of the Cross, depicting scenes of Christ’s Passion from His trail to His Crucifixion and burial; and 12 gold leaf “consecration crosses” with candle sconces, symbolizing the 12 Apostles and the fact that the Basilica is a consecrated church.
Turning again toward the sanctuary, and proceeding to the right, or north, is an 1850’s wood carved statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the oldest artifact in the church. Above, is the coat of arms of the current Pope.
Next is the 1897 Altar of St. Joseph, and the Holy Family. This is 36 feet high and 15 feet wide. In the central niche is a 1900 Bavarian wood carving of the Holy Family with an angel presenting a small church to the Infant Jesus. Surrounding this niche are four oil paintings. The top two (left to right) are the Betrothal of Mary and Joseph, and the Flight into Egypt. The bottom two (left to right) are the Holy Family at Work, and the Death of St. Joseph.
Lower on the altar, behind the crucifixion scene, are oils of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Elizabeth, and statues of St. Catherine and St. Anne. At the base of the altar (left to right) are small statues of Sts. Francis Xavier Cabini, (an American saint, who passed through Dyersville occasionally on the train), Dominic, Francis and Isidore (patron of framers), with a central oil of the death of St. Francis Xavier in the wilderness. Atop the altar in a central niche is a statue of the Guardian Angel.
In front of this altar is an 1870’s oak Baptismal Font, recently re-finished by a parishioner. Near the baptismal font is the Easter (or Pascal) Candle stick. This is a turn-of-the-century piece. Two others like it, but gilded, are in Good Shepherd Church, Beverly Hills, CA. During the Easter season, this candle stick is kept next to the pulpit.
Proceeding along the north wall is a statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague, and the North Doors lead to a newly glass-enclosed porch, with a new statue of St. Francis Xavier, carved by Mr. John Becker, a local artist.
Proceeding back south, across the central part of the sanctuary, you see to the left of the altar, the 1906 Pulpit, also carved butternut. The statues on the base represent early Christian writers: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Paul; and 5 Doctors of the Western Church, Ambrose, Jerome, Gregory, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.
To the left of the pulpit is an 1873 statue of the parish patron, St. Francis Xavier. Above, is the Basilica Coat of Arms, described in our brochure.
The next major piece in the Basilica is the Altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is also called the Rosary Altar. This Altar is of the same dimensions as St. Joseph’s Altar.
At the bottom of the front of the altar are carved the Joyful Mysteries, from left to right, the: Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, and the Finding of the Boy Jesus in the Temple.
Across the center, in oil and statuary, the Sorrowful Mysteries: The Agony in the garden, Scourging at the Pillar, Crowning with Thorns, Carrying of the Cross, and Crucifixion.
Above, beginning at the left top and going counter-clockwise around the niche, care the Gloriuos Mysteries in oil: The Resurrection, Ascension, Descent of the Holy Spirit, Assumption, and in the center niche, the Coronation of the Virgin by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Rosary on the Virgin’s arm is a gift from Pope John Paul II. (A more precious rosary from the pope is occasionally displayed.) At the top of this altar is another statuary piece of Sts. Dominic and Catherine of Siena receiving the Rosary from the Madonna and Child.
To the left of the Blessed Virgin’s Altar are 2 statues: an 1873 statue of St. Anthony of Padua, and a 1926 statue of St. Therese of Lisieux, the “Little Flower.” This latter statue was restored in 1997 for the centenary of the saint’s death, and pope John Paul II giving her the title, “Doctor of the Church.”
Through the South Entrance, is a new entry, erected in 1989 in honor of the centennial year of the Basilica. This entry includes restrooms, lifts for handicapped persons, and a new window of St. Francis Xavier. Also, along the new entry walls are photos of previous pastors of the parish, antique processional lanterns and banners, and plaques of donors and memorials.
We hope you have enjoyed your visit to St. Francis Xavier Basilica. Please know that you are always welcome to visit and attend any parish services. God bless you!
In addition, you are welcome to visit the Corpus Christi Chapel, 1 block south and 4 blocks west (at the end of 3rd Avenue W.). This chapel was built in 1905 for Benediction during our once-a-year Corpus Christi procession. It was completely restored and renovated in 1995. The priest who donated the statue of the Madonna and Child for this Chapel, entitled it, “Our Lady of Dyersville.”