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The altar is transformed into a grassy hill, suggesting the pristine beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

The place where we gather this evening is a Holy Hill. 
Long after the last glacier had done its work and carved this hill top and left the waters of a great sound;
Long before the first European Americans and the first priest arrived,
The place where we gather this evening was a holy place.
A sacred elevation with its spring of fresh flowing water,
with its towering columns of trees,
with its lush meadows and fragrant grasses,
with its outlook on water and whales and distant islands and more distant mountains.
A place made sacred by God and blessed by the prayers of the First Peoples.
As long as people have lived on the waters of this sound,
this very place where we gather this evening has been a Holy Hill.

Jubilate! Young Women's Ensemble sing Wagner's "Pilgrim Chorus."

1880s.  The Providence Sisters came to this Holy Hill, the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary came to this Holy Hill, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace and the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart came to this Holy Hill, and for the first time Seattle heard the sound of choirs singing the ancient melodies of Gregorian chant.

1904.  The land--this very land-- is purchased. This Holy Hill is to become again a sacred place.  Construction begins, not for a great Cathedral, but for a modest wooden chapel. This entire portion of the hilltop is transformed into a building site. And while surveys are taken and plans are drawn and dreams are dreamed, the people of God gather on First Hill to celebrate the mysteries of the Faith and to become the parish of St. James.

1905.  The People of God came to watch Bishop O’Dea lay the corner stone of the new Cathedral.
  Catholics and curious came.  Nuns and natives came.

Children and choirs and the entire community came.

Five thousand strong they came.

In the months following the laying of the corner stone,
a gleaming City of God rose brick by brick high above the city.
And so began a new century of pilgrimage to this Holy Hill.
Decade following decade in an ever-widening pilgrim stream.
Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and now, a century later,
many millions of times the faithful and the seekers have climbed this Holy Hill.
They have come from Seattle and Washington and the world to encounter God
in this sacred space.

On December 22, 1907 the dream is no longer just a dream.
Overlooking the waters and the whales of the sound,
are the towers and mighty dome of St. James.
A baptismal font flows where once had been the spring of fresh water.
Marble columns recall the towering trees.
Polished stone replace the meadows
and fragrant grasses are transformed into incense.

In the center of this gleaming vision of the New Jerusalem--
the altar emerges from the rocks left by the glacier;
An altar carved from the Italian marble used by Michelangelo
half a world away.

December 15, 1907.  A week before the ceremonial dedication, the entire city was invited to make the pilgrimage up the Holy Hill to the new Cathedral. In this sacred space, before the first mass, the ecumenical gathering was embraced by the rich sound of the largest pipe organ in the region. The Cathedral Organist, Dr. Franklin Sawyer Palmer, a Seattleite recently returned from his studies in Europe, demonstrated the range of this remarkable instrument, and as never before, Seattle heard the full majesty of the great Protestant composer, Johann Sebastian Bach.

1912.  The Cathedral School is dedicated and it transforms the Cathedral’s music. Women’s voices had not been heard in the Cathedral for many years since a Vatican decree of 1903 barred mixed choirs. But now, with children at St. James, a Schola Cantorum was established and treble voices once more were heard in the Cathedral’s resonant acoustics.  The Cathedral School’s program, teaching chant singing to children, earned national acclaim, and, when radio shows were broadcast from Seattle, these children’s voices joined with the men of the Cathedral Choir and together were heard for miles around.

Cathedral Soloist Norman Smith sings Dubois' "Seven Last Words."

Eighty-eight years ago this very week, February 2, 1916, catastrophe struck the still heavily-mortgaged Cathedral. Three feet of snow fell during a single storm. As the snow melted from the south side of the dome, the great dome collapsed with a mighty roar--breaking windows, throwing pews around like straws and leaving a gaping opening to the elements. 

With a boldness impossible to understand unless you know Cathedral pastors, Father Noonan began an immediate reconstruction during which the central vault, where once a dome had soared, was lowered by nearly half its original height.  He commissioned sixty-two new stained glass windows from Tiffany’s chief competitor, Charles Connick.   These windows, the world’s largest collection of glass from the most creative period of Connick’s output, were dedicated with music from Dubois’ Seven Last Words of Christ.

1982.  The ancient tradition of sacred drama and movement is brought to this Holy Hill...  Monks from St. Martin's Abbey, medieval instrumentalists from the Early Music Guild, actors and dancers from Cornish College of the Arts join Cathedral musicians in a fully-staged production of the 12th century liturgical drama Play of Daniel.  And so begins two decades of annual encounters with God in this sacred place through the combined ministries of theater arts and dance and music and architecture and poetry.  Great Music for a Great Cathedral.

Jubilate! Young Women's Ensemble and the newly-formed St. Edward Vocal Ensemble for young men sing the medieval "Play of Daniel," originally performed by the young people of Beauvais Cathedral.



James Savage conducts the Cathedral choir in Bruckner's Agnus Dei.

Jubilate!, the Women of St. James Schola and the Women of the Cathedral Choir
sing Verdi's "Laudi alla Vergine Maria."

Cathedral Servers hold lanterns around the historic image of Our Lady of Seattle.

The Cathedral Brass perform music by Giovanni Gabrieli,
originally composed for the Cathedral of San Marco in Venice, 1615.

Howard Fankhauser sings "O Quanta Qualia," a hymn of the celestial city by Peter Abelard.

The wings of the seraphim embrace Abelard at the close of "O Quanta Qualia."

As the Cathedral Choir sings the stirring music of Rachmaninoff, the Cathedral's collection of icons by parishioner Joan Brand-Landkamer is carried in solemn procession.

Soprano Linda Strandberg is Hildegard of Bingen, singing "O Frondens Virga"
with the Women of St. James Schola.

Machaut's Messe de Nostre Dame was the first great setting of the ordinary of the Mass for four-part ensemble.  It is thought to have been composed for the coronation of Charles V at Reims in 1364.

Choirs and brass join in a magnificent presentation of the finale of Handel's oratorio Esther. "Let all the earth His praise proclaim!"

As "Master of the Court," Lisa Cardwell Pontén directs the ceremonial entrance of Queen Esther (Louise Marley) and her uncle Mordecai (Howard Fankhauser).

Queen Esther enters amid great magnolia petals.

Close to 300 volunteers put in countless hours to bring Great Music to life. Thank you to the choirs, the Cathedral Brass, the stage crew, the designers, the servers, the lighting crew, the ushers and ministers of hospitality, and all the generous patrons of A Great Evening for Great Music.

Great Music for a Great Cathedral 2005

James Savage, Artistic Director

Jeff Robbins, Lighting Designer

Kitty Kavanaugh, Scenic Designs

Joseph Adam, Cathedral Organist

Clint Kraus, Cathedral Associate Organist



All photos by Maria Laughlin.  Copyright (c) St. James Cathedral, 2005.


Go behind the scenes!  More Great Music 2005
Visit the Cathedral Music Page
View images of Great Music 2004


Return to St. James Cathedral Parish Website

804 Ninth Avenue
Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303