St. James Cathedral in Seattle is a Roman Catholic cathedral built in 1907. It is notable for its grand scale, fine architecture, a Renaissance painting of the Virgin and Child, and its relics of Mother Cabrini, the first American saint.
History of St. James Cathedral
In 1903, foreseeing that Seattle would soon surpass the city of Vancouver in importance, Bishop Edward J. O’Dea purchased property on Seattle’s First Hill and made plans to build a cathedral. In 1904 he hired the prestigious New York architectural firm of Heins and LaFarge (who designed St John the Divine in New York City) and requested a cathedral "that must surpass anything in the West."
The cornerstone ceremony took place on November 12, 1905. Completed in just two years, St. James Cathedral was dedicated on December 22, 1907.
In 1916, the cathedral's central dome violently crashed to the floor under the weight of two feet of snow, but fortunately no one was in the nave at the time. The cathedral reopened on March 18, 1917, with a flat roof taking the place of the former dome.
In 1950, a major project of refurbishment was undertaken on the cathedral. The interior was fully cleaned, wiring was modernized, and statues and other decorations were added.
Another major remodeling project took place in 1994, which focused primarily on moving the altar to the center of the assembly in accordance with the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. A circular skylight was added directly above the altar.
What to See at St. James Cathedral
The architects of St James Cathedral decided against the Gothic model popular in favor of 14th century Italian Renaissance architecture. The graceful twin towers of St. James are 167 feet high. The cathedral is cruciform in design with exceptionally wide, deep transepts.
The steps leading up to the west façade of the cathedral recall those of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, the legendary burial place of St. James of Apostle.
The ceremonial bronze doors at the Cathedral’s west entrance were created in 1999 by German artist Ulrich Henn, whose only other commissions in the United States were the bronze gates of the Washington National Cathedral.
The relics of the Italian-born nun Mother Cabrini, the first American citizen to be declared a saint (1946), are enshrined beneath St. James' altar. She often worshipped at St. James Cathedral during her ministry among the sick and impoverished of Seattle.
One of the cathedral's great artistic treasures is a painting of the Virgin and Child with Six Saints by Neri di Bicci (ca. 1471) of Florence. The celebrated painting was the centerpiece of an exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum through January 2005, after which it returned to its home in the cathedral's chapel with a joyful procession (photos here).
The cathedral's interior also features a number of beautiful statues of the Virgin Mary and other saints.
Quick Facts on St. James Cathedral
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Map of St. James Cathedral
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