Pastor's Letter

Dear Friends,

Not long after the Cathedral dedication in December of 1994, a good friend of the Cathedral, at the time not even a parishioner, came to me with an idea. What the Cathedral really needed now, he told me, were ceremonial bronze doors at the main entrance. All the great cathedrals of the world had such doors, he reminded me, and St. James should be no different. Needless to say, I was taken by the idea, particularly when my friend generously indicated that he was willing to make a substantial gift toward making it all happen!

National Cathedral Gates Close-up detail of the gates of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
From a casual conversation came more serious deliberations involving some advisors, including the Cathedral's architects. After spending considerable time on research and study, we began an international search for an artist to handle the commission. Artists from across the country and around the world, including some fine ones right here in the Northwest, submitted proposals for consideration. In the end, the decision was made to award the commission to the internationally recognized German sculptor, Ulrich Henn. Mr. Henn is famous throughout Germany for his work on similar projects. In addition to the many great bronze doors he has created for village churches as well as great cathedrals, he has to his credit a large number of wonderful sculptures and fountains in buildings and public squares throughout Germany. His most recent commission, however, was in this country. After a worldwide search back in the early 1980's, Ulrich Henn was commissioned to create the six magnificent bronze gates of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

Before accepting our commission, Mr. Henn twice traveled here to Seattle to learn about St. James, its people and its cathedral. He liked what he saw here. He spent Sundays in the Cathedral praying with us and during the week he walked the grounds observing the comings and goings of the countless people who come here for help and who come here to help. His days among us inspired him to submit a model for bronze doors that will, I am confident, be breathtaking both in their beauty and in the depth of their message. Without going into detail (I want you to experience something of the wonder I felt when I first saw Mr. Henn's scale model!), the great central doors will portray through scriptural stories the human journey of faith seen as the ascent to the heavenly Jerusalem.

As you might expect, creating works of art of this magnitude doesn't happen overnight. Once the basic design was settled upon, the painstaking work of creating a full-size wax carving of the doors began in Mr. Henn's studio not far from Trier, in Germany. He has been engaged in that work for approximately seven months now and it will be well into next year before he completes it. Once the wax sculpture has been completed, it will be taken to a foundry where a plaster cast will be made of it, preparatory to the actual bronze casting. This intricate and labor-intensive process, highly developed by the Romans before the Christian era and known as the lost wax process will result in a set of magnificent sculpted doors that will grace the Cathedral's main facade. Six doors will eventually be cast: two intricately sculpted ones for the central entrance and four quite simple ones for the two flanking entrances. The new bronze doors will be considerably taller than the present wooden ones (nearly 15 feet in height), much more in keeping with the scale and grandeur of the Cathedral's west facade.

Since the project got under way, you will be happy to know that another interested donor has stepped forward with a second generous gift. These two gifts, along with a bequest from a deceased Cathedral parishioner, will cover the entire cost of the bronze doors.

At this writing, it is still uncertain as to when the doors will be completed. Best estimates are that the casting process will be finished approximately a year from now. I will keep you posted as this exciting project unfolds and nears completion. Meanwhile, may I ask that you remember in your prayers the sculptor and the people whose generosity has made all this possible? Thank you.

Father Michael G. Ryan


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