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Main Quad and the Golden Dome

Main Quad and the Golden Dome

For the next segment of this tour, walk north through the quad until you are standing in front of the golden-domed Main Building.

Narration by Fr. Nate Wills, C.S.C.

As you listen, begin walking toward the Golden Dome, the Main Building. The buildings to your left are residence halls: There is one for women, Walsh Hall, and the one near the Basilica with turrets is for men and is named after Father Sorin. The longest tenured resident of Sorin Hall is Father Edward “Monk” Malloy, who served as Notre Dame’s president from 1987 through 2005. Notre Dame has a long history of Holy Cross priests living in community with students. On your right are academic buildings, and the LaFortune Student Center. This tour will take you past LaFortune later, which will be a good time to stop if you’d like to take advantage of its restrooms, coffee shop, or food court.

Students call this quad in front of the Dome “God Quad” because it holds the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the tall church that will come into view to your left. This area has always been the heart of campus. Ahead of you, in the center of the quad stands a statue of Jesus with his Sacred Heart, the patron of the priests of Holy Cross. They placed this statue at the crossroads of campus with the inscription “Venite ad me Omnes” come to me all of you, and his arms open in a gesture of welcome as an invitation of faith for all who pass by.

Since 1844, the Main Building has always represented the University. In the early years, it was the university—faculty, staff, students, and administrators all lived here, where they also worked and studied. By 1865, the building had acquired a white dome with a plaster statue of Mary on top. From that point on, the Dome also represented the patroness of the University—Our Lady of the Lake, Notre Dame.

Then, in April of 1879, fire broke out in the Main Building. Students and faculty rushed to save what they could, but within six hours, only a few outer walls remained standing. The dome had collapsed and the entire structure was in ruins. No life was lost, and the church was not harmed, but the fire destroyed everything that carried the educational endeavor at Notre Dame.

When Father Sorin toured the wreckage, people expected him to bend under the tragedy of seeing his life’s work in ruins. Instead, he stiffened.

“If it were all gone, I should not give up,” he is remembered as saying.

Support came from all over to help Notre Dame rebuild. More than 300 workers laid millions of bricks for the new building over the course of that summer. Though not complete with the dome you see now, the building was ready that fall to receive the 324 students who arrived for classes less than five months after that great fire.

The statue of Mary arrived in 1880, but had to wait eight years for the dome to be finished to support it. The women of nearby Saint Mary’s College procured the statue, which is modeled after one that was erected in Rome by the pope. It stands 19 feet high and weighs 4,000 pounds.

Mary’s statue is clothed in real gold and stands on a crescent moon, images that come from the Book of Revelation. The uniform colors for the Fighting Irish are blue and gold for this reason: The blue calls to mind the dark sky behind Mary and gold represents her clothed with the sun.

The dome is gilded with real 23-karat gold. It takes only eight ounces of this precious metal—about the size of your fist—to cover the dome. Every dozen years or so, workers apply the thin layer by hand.

Today, the Main Building holds classrooms and many of the main administrative offices for the University, including the president’s office. Visitors are welcome—when this portion of the tour concludes, feel free to walk up the stairs and explore the views of the inside of the dome. You can access an elevator by entering the ground level doors and walking through to the back side of the building.

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart to your left is the main worship space on campus, and is consistently ranked as one of the most beautiful college churches in the world. Visitors are welcome during the day at any time the church is not in use for worship. If you’d like to explore the Basilica further, you’ll find interpretive guides inside, including docents during certain hours.

At this point, you have the opportunity to explore the interiors of the Main Building and/or the Basilica, if you wish. On your left, you will see a prominent side entrance to the Basilica—it is a wooden door with stone carving around it. When you are ready to resume this tour, open the next segment when you are standing outside that door.