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The original interior of St. James Cathedral was airy, simple, and full of light.  At the time the Cathedral was dedicated on December 22, 1907, there was no stained-glass, and stenciling was the principal decoration.

Looking west, toward the Hutchings-Votey organ, the view is very much as it is today.

The collapse of the Dome on February 2, 1916 necessitated a drastic remodel--virtually a rebuilding--of the Cathedral.  Seattle architect John Graham decorated the interior with Corinthian plaster detailing. Four large corner piers were introduced at the crossing in order to support a new dome (never built). 

The restoration took more than a year. St. James Cathedral finally reopened on March 18, 1917. The interior was strikingly different. Funds had been insufficient to rebuild the dome, and in its place was a flat fresco based on Raphael’s Ascension (dimly visible in the photograph). Arcades were added across the front of the north and south transepts, creating a long aisle; and new terrazzo flooring made for even grander processions than before. As The Progress reported, “the whole occasion was marked by a feeling of satisfaction much similar to that experienced when the building was first completed 11 years before. It is to be hoped that someday circumstances will permit the replacement of the great dome.” The addition of stained glass windows a year later transformed the building even further. Where once the sun had flooded through the clear windows, and through windows in the dome itself, filling the simply furnished interior with natural light, the new windows cast, in the words of John Milton, “a dim religious light.”

The Sacred Heart statue in the North Transept, as it appeared in 1929. 


In 1950, in honor of the centenary of the Diocese of Nesqually/Seattle, the Cathedral underwent a major redecoration under the direction of Rambusch Studio, New York, in collaboration with local architect John Maloney.  A new high altar was erected, and the Cathedral interior was transformed with the vibrant colors and eclectic decoration popular in the era.

The high altar as it appeared in the 1980s.  To "modernize" his cathedral, Connolly hired prominent architects.  Paul Thiry--who later became the principal architect of "Century 21," the Seattle World's Fair in 1962--renovated the Cathedral rectory and added a third storey.  Local architect Ralph Lund oversaw the changes to the Cathedral itself, including replacing the roof and improving the mechanical systems. 


1994 Renovation and Restoration

The goal of the most recent renovation of St. James Cathedral, by Bumgardner Architects of Seattle, was to incorporate the teachings of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and change the focus of the liturgical action to the midst of the assembly. 

The Cathedral closed for renovation on Easter Monday, 1994. For the next nine months, daily Masses were celebrated in the Cathedral Chapel, and Sunday liturgies took place at the Bishop Thomas E. Gill Memorial Gymnasium at O’Dea High School—which soon acquired the catchy nickname of “Saint Gym.” Week after week, a team of volunteers, with Cathedral Sacristan Jim Johnson (now Father Johnson), transformed the gym into a cathedral, and then, at the end of the day, turned it back into a gym again. The transitional time in the gym helped to prepare the people for their new cathedral, as the arrangement of the chairs suggested the new configuration of seating in the cathedral. Weekly bulletin inserts kept everyone abreast of the extraordinary doings across the street. (Photo by mike.com)

“The 1994 renovation and renewal began with an awareness that older church interiors were typically ill-suited to the reformed rites of Vatican II, which call for a change in the focus of liturgical action, to the gathered assembly. Once the architectural aspects and Renaissance layout of the building were recognized, it became obvious to everyone that the altar had to be placed in the center. It was a solution which would encourage full participation in the liturgy while giving harmony to the building’s historic features. After establishing this central theme, all the other design decisions flowed from it.” (Stephen Lee, Architect)

“The focal point of St. James Cathedral is its centrally placed altar, a gleaming white vision in stone of the heavenly banquet table. The entire geography of the cathedral—baptistry, ambo, cathedra, chapels, shrines, windows, processional paths and vaulted ceiling—makes sense only in relation to the altar, and the people who gather around the altar make sense of the building and bring it to life.” (Father Michael G. Ryan)

The Cathedral was rededicated on December 22, 1994.  Click here to explore more images of the Cathedral at the Photo Gallery.  To read more about the acclaimed 1994 renovation of St. James Cathedral, try the Cathedral's own House of God, Gate of Heaven.

All pictures copyright (c) St. James Cathedral Archives, Seattle, Washington.  All rights reserved.


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804 Ninth Avenue
Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303