The Cathedral of the Plains
Rising above the prairie in the small town of Victoria, Kansas, the twin spires of St. Fidelis Church or the “Cathedral of the Plains” as it is commonly referred to, is a stunning sight noticeable for miles in any direction.
Named as one of the “Eight Wonders of Kansas” this native stone church is located just a few miles south of I-70 at the Victoria exit. Still home to an active congregation the church is open to visitors and is well worth the stop to visit when traveling across Kansas.
First settled in 1872 by farmers from England, Victoria was named in honor of the Queen of England. Later in 1876 a group of “Volga-German” immigrants from Russia settled nearby. With their strong Catholic faith and ability to adapt to the harsh Kansas prairie life the small town of Victoria soon became a vibrant “Volga-German” settlement after the original English settlers left the area having not adapted well to the tough Kansas living conditions. Their Catholic faith played an important role in the lives of these early settlers as well as the town itself. As the population grew the Volga-German settlers built three different churches to accommodate their growing congregation before starting work on the existing St. Fidelis Church in 1908.
Designed by John T. Comes of Pittsburg, PA and John Marshall of Topeka construction on the Romanesque “Cathedral of the Plains” started in 1908. The principle contractor was E.F.A. Clark Construction Company from Topeka, Kansas. Construction of the current church was completed in 1911, after taking almost three years to build. It is built out of native limestone that was quarried south of Victoria. Each family in the parish contributed to the building of the church and helped haul around 3000 wagon loads of stone needed to build this impressive church. With stones weighing between 50 and 100 pounds or more, each of which was cut and dressed by hand, building this huge Cathedral was a massive undertaking and a great sacrifice for those early German settlers who made Victoria their home. At the time of completion it was the largest church west of the Mississippi with a seating capacity of 1,100.
Built in the shape of a cross the church is 220 feet long and 110 feet wide at its widest point. It features twin bell towers that are 141 feet tall and are visible for miles in all directions. With the largest bell weighing almost 1300 pounds the bells of St. Fidelis still ring at 6 AM and 6 PM every day. On the front of the church just above a 13 foot round window, a statute of its patron saint, St. Fidelis stands as if keeping watch over the church and its congregation. The stone walls of the church average between two and three feet thick made out of hand hewed native limestone rock.
As impressive as the outside of the church is, the inside is every bit, if not more impressive work of craftsmanship and beauty. Featuring a forty-four foot high ceiling supported by eight round and six octagon shaped, solid granite pillars the interior of this beautiful church was every bit an impressive work as the outside. It is also another testimony to the work ethic and ingenuity of those early settlers. The massive granite pillars presented another challenge to the parishioners who had to find a way of transporting them from the rail head to the church. Weighing too much for the typical wagon of that day they had to adapt an old threshing machine to use to transport the pillars.
The massive granite pillars are just the beginning of the beauty you will find when you walk through the doors of St. Fidelis Church. Featuring ornate interior and beautiful stained glass windows the “Cathedral of Plains” is truly an inspiring and impressive building. At the front of the sanctuary you will find the large altar with statutes depicting St. Peter and St. Paul on either side of the main altar. You also have two side altars as well. Throughout the church there are also a number of statues, many of which are close to 100 years old. Also on the inside you will find very ornate and detailed “stations of the cross”.
The nickname “Cathedral of the Plains” was given to St. Fidelis Church by William Jennings Bryan in 1912 after he visited the area. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, The Cathedral of the Plains, is well worth it as a short side trip to see when traveling across Kansas on I-70. It is a great example of the types of beautiful architecture that can be found all across Kansas and a testimony to the hard work and ingenuity of the hardy settlers that settled Kansas. The church is open to visitors during daylight hours and guided tours are available by appointment by calling the Parish Office at 785-735-2777. If you decide to visit the “Cathedral on the Plains” be sure to plan on spending some time reflecting on the beauty of this great church building.