The statue and the Dome
The statue of Mary atop the Golden Dome – weighing 4,400 pounds and standing 18 feet, 7 inches tall – was paid for by donations from the nuns, student and alumnae of Saint Mary’s College. It arrived on campus in July 1880 to replace the statue that was destroyed in the previous year’s Great Fire at Notre Dame.
The cast iron statue sat on the rebuilt front porch of the new Main Building for two years while the new dome was completed. The $1 million rebuilding project had left the University in debt. University founder Fr. Sorin wanted to gild the Dome in real gold, but the Holy Cross community’s Council of Administration for Notre Dame deemed it too great an extravagance.
The standoff lasted into 1886, when Fr. Sorin employed a procedural trick. He used his position as superior general of the community to name himself to the committee and asked to be its chairman. He then refused to come to the meetings so that the other members could not legally conduct its business, even moving to temporary quarters at Saint Mary’s and refusing to return. When University business halted, the committee relented and Fr. Sorin got his Golden Dome and statue.
The first project cost $2,000, while the 10th gilding of the dome in 2005 cost $300,000. The stubborn founder had an innate genius for marketing, as the Golden Dome has become Notre Dame’s most recognizable symbol.