The Cathedral of the Madeleine, a Salt Lake landmark since its construction in 1909, opened its doors for the first of a series of special public tours Thursday night.

The cathedral was a mess. But it's a good mess, said the Very Rev. M. Francis Mannion."People now are seeing the building in its worst condition," the Rev. Mannion said. But the disarray is an important part of an 18-month, $8.1 million restoration of the sandstone cathedral, located at 331 E. South Temple.

Work crews are three months into the first phase of the project, which requires the partial dismantling of the cathedral. After taking up floors and dismantling walls, the crews have pronounced the Cathedral of the Madeleine structurally healthy, the Rev. Mannion said. "It's pretty good," he said. "there were no surprises."

By June, the second phase will begin. Then, art conservators and work crews will work on reviving the building's hallmark stained glass, ornate woodwork, paintings and murals, which have deteriorated over the decades.

When constructed in 1909, the cathedral "wasn't very glorious," said the Rev. Mannion. The interior now being renovated dates from about 1920. "We are trying to restore all the art, carvings and elements of the building from 1920 to their original condition," he said. "It's very exciting, very promising and will benefit not only Catholics but the whole community."

Guided tours of the cathedral will be held the last Thursday of each month from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. during the renovation, and the work will be documented with photos and videotapes, the Rev. Mannion said.

Since the restoration began three months ago, the 1,000 or so households that form the congregation have been attending Mass at nearby Lowell Elementary School.