"...And when this school has
grown a bit more, I will raise her aloft, so that men will know,
without asking, why we have succeeded here. To that Lovely Lady,
raised high on a dome, a golden dome, men may look and find the answer."
--Rev. Edward F. Sorin, C.S.C.
description of the history of this statue of the Virgin Mary as the
Immaculate Conception is from a fascinating book called A Dome of
Learning by Thomas J. Schlereth. [Available at the Notre Dame
W.J. Edbrooke's [the architect of the Main Building] Notre Dame dome
drawing's also concluded with a woman's statue. There was no doubt who
she would be: the Virgin Mary as the Immaculate Conception. Several
reasons account for this. The American Catholic hierarchy had, in
their first Council of Baltimore (1846) chosen Mary, under this title,
as the spiritual patron of the United States. The dogma of the
Immaculate Conception was officially proclaimed eight years later by
Pope Pius IX. Finally, Mary, under the title of the Immaculate
Conception, had been Edward Sorin's idea for the statue placed atop
the Main Building.
The new statue would be larger, taller, more beautiful -- a icon that
would simultaneously symbolize three of his passionate allegiances: to
America, To Rome, and to the Virgin. Moreover, he knew the perfect
model; he had walked by it many times in the past 20 years. Where?
Rome's Piazza di Spagna, where on September 8, 1857, Pius IX had
unveiled a monument to the Immaculate Conception. Sorin decided he
would duplicate the papal sculpture by placing it not on a
free-standing Corinthian column but upon a gigantic dome gilded with
gold. The Virgin would terminate a vertical building feature
whose statistics he would never tire of reciting or reprinting:
a) basement to roof = 78 feet
b) height of dome = 91 feet, 6 inches
c) height of pedestal = 11 feet, 6 inches
d) statue height = 16 feet
-Total height = 197 feet.
Although Sorin and Edbrooke planned for the dome and statue from the
beginning, the iron framed, wood-clad dome was not finished until
1882. The cast-iron, 4,400 pound, 16-foot statue, purchased largely
from the bequests from Mother Angela Gillespie's Holy Cross sisters,
women students and alumnae of Saint Mary's Academy, was completed by a
Chicago artist, Giovanni Meli, by July 1880. While the dome itself was
under construction, the statue stood for several years on the Main
Building's front porch roof.
Sorin wanted it to stand on a pedestal of gold. The Holy Cross
community's Council of Administration for Notre Dame argued that a
dome gilded with gold was too extravagant an outlay of funds; there
were many other more practical and necessary expenses. Sorin remained
unconvinced. One council member proposed: Why not paint it as had been
done with the previous Main Building's done? Sorin scoffed. The debate
and the deadlock continued. By 1886 Sorin decided on another approach.
As the Superior General of the Holy Cross community, he could assume
the chair at any community or University councils or committee
meetings. This he did with the council that refused to appropriate
funds for the gold. He then requested to be designated as the
council's chairman; the council so voted. Thereafter he deliberately
absented himself from the council's weekly (Tuesday) meeting, taking
up temporary residence at Saint Mary's across the road. The council
assembled but could not legally convene without its chairman.
University and community business came to a halt. This scenario acted
itself out Tuesday after Tuesday until, finally, University president
Rev. Thomas E. Walsh, C.S.C., a Sorin protege, collected the council
in a rump session and gathered enough votes in favor of the gilding. A
delegation was dispatched to tell Sorin at St. Mary's of this decision;
he gave them audience, courteously acknowledged their message and bid
them adieu. By that afternoon he returned to Notre Dame, convened the
council, took a vote and had his gold.
to Irish Legends