Building Description Basilica of St. Josaphat, Milwaukee Wisconsin

The main portion of the church is 180 feet 9 inches in length (north-south) and 127 feet in width (east-west). The front portico and steps increase the north-south dimension to 212 feet 10 inches. The dome rises to a height of 250 feet, and the circumference is reported to be 240 feet. The twin bell towers of the front facade rise to a height of 100 feet,

The walls are faced with cut limestone that was salvaged from the old Chicago Federal Building. The size of the blocks and their quantity were among the determining factors on the size and shape of the basilica. The limestone is finished in a variety of ways: The quoins have smooth rustication with chamfered edges; wall surfaces have either a bush-hammer finish with chiseled edges or are smoothly dressed.

The north facade has a large pedimented portico supported on six huge Corinthian columns of polished granite resting upon base blocks. The pediment has a row of dentil mouldings and paired brackets while the tympanum is undecorated.

On the north (front) facade there are five pairs of panelled doors each having two small rectangular transom lights. Above the doorways, and separated from them by five sets of paired, round-arched windows, are five rectangular stone panels. The second and fourth of these panels have bas-relief sculpture; the remaining three are plain. Paired panelled doors lead into each of the transepts from the north. A storm door and vestibule are later additions to these entrances. On the east and west elevations there are paired panelled doors that lead into the basement beneath the main portico and front steps. There is a rear (south) door that opens into a connecting passageway to the parish house to the south behind the church.

The windows have wooden tracery and stained glass set in semi-circular stone arches. The extremely large window at each transept is divided into four vertical panels and crowned by a large wheel window set into a semi-circular masonry surround with bush-hammered voussoirs.

Also of note are the similar, smaller, stained-glass windows, the arches of which have a decorative keystone. Above the front portico there is a large wheel window. The basement windows are stained glass with a segmental head.

There are two rows of windows in the drum beneath the dome, but many of the windows in the lower row have been bricked-in. The top row of windows have slightly arched heads with keystones while the second (lower) row windows are arched. There are pilasters framing both rows of windows in the drum. A semicircular skylight forms part of the roof of the main apse.

The central dome, the half domes of the triple apsidal end, the remainder of the roof of the nave, and the hipped roofs of the bell towers are all copper, now tarnished green.

The dome consists of an inner and an outer shell; the framing is steel. The stone drum beneath the dome is carried internally on pendentives. Four large clocks face the points of the compass at the intersection of dome and drum.


Beneath the basilica is a church which is reached by entrances under the front portico. There is no furnace room, as heat is provided by the boilers in the school on the west, adjacent to the basilica.

The first floor plan is basically square with the dome centrally located. Pendentives transmit the load of the dome and drum to eight large piers, each of which has a single three-quartered engaged pseudo-marble column with a Corinthian capital. The side aisles are defined by these piers.

There is cross vaulting except in the central bay of the transepts and the central bay of the rear nave and vestibule-these have barrel vaults. There is a star vault in front of the main apse. The south end of the building is triple apsidal.

The choir loft above the rear nave is reached by steps from that area. There is a decorative cast iron railing across the front of the choir loft. The vestibule and the auditorium are raised four steps above the front entry.

In the southeast corner of the church there is an ornately carved, white marble, free-standing pulpit reached by a curving staircase. The main altar is marble while its baldachino and the baptistery are of finely-carved wood. The communion rail is marble.

In the rear of the nave there are five doorways, each having two doors, and encased by elaborate pilasters with Corinthian capitals and an ornate entablature. These doors give access from the vestibule into the church proper. They are slab doors with a diamond-shaped light and are probably not original. The lintels above them on the vestibule side of the wall are simply treated in comparison with those on the other side. On the side of the basilica, two other doorways lead into the transepts. These are paired panelled walnut doors, the trim of which is highly molded and of oak.