Yesterday Francesco and I were in San José to witness the seating of Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves as the third bishop of the Diocese of El Camino Real. The seating of a bishop in the cathedra is a rite that goes back to ancient Christianity and is the official beginning of a bishop’s ministry in a diocese. Watch for Francesco to post some images soon.
Of course, the unusual aspect of this rite was that a woman was seated in the diocesan cathedra. Bishop Gray-Reeves was ordained on November 10, 2007 after she was elected the first woman to head a California Episcopal diocese. This historic event took place in a historic place, the venerable Trinity Cathedral in downtown San José. Trinity Cathedral is the oldest Episcopal cathedral church in California, the oldest Episcopal church in San José and the oldest church building in continuous use in that city. It proudly bears the designation of San José Historic City Landmark number 6.
The election, ordination and seating of Bishop Gray-Reeves is only the latest in a long history of pioneering initiatives by the Episcopal community of San José, which has always adopted innovative approaches to its growth.
In 1854, shortly after his ordination in New York to head the new missionary Diocese of California, California’s first Episcopal bishop William Ingraham Kip arrived at his diocesan seat of San Francisco. One of his first acts was to visit San José, where he conducted the first Episcopal service for a group at the Independent Presbyterian Church (later renamed First Presbyterian Church) on Second Street between St. John and Santa Clara streets. That church would become Trinity’s neighbor until it was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake.
First Presbyterian Church in ruins after the 1906 earthquake
Bishop Kip continued to make the arduous journey from San Francisco to serve the small Episcopal congregation of nine people in San José from time to time, until their first rector, Sylvester S. Etheridge, arrived to celebrate the First Sunday of Advent in 1860. The congregation organized as Trinity Church in 1861, holding services first in the firehouse on North Market Street and then in the City Hall.
Trinity was organized as a “free church,” meaning that all were welcome to attend without having to rent a seat as was the custom of the time. Soon the congregation began pioneering work among the African-American community of San José. An African-American member of Trinity Church who was among the first ordained from Trinity, Rev. Peter Cassey, established St. Philip’s Mission and Trinity members organized a Sunday school there for the children, with Bishop Kip going there for confirmations through 1871.
Among the first members of Trinity’s vestry was James W. Hammond, a retired sea captain skilled in the art of shipbuilding. He was to be a prominent lay leader and served as senior warden for 12 years. To him fell the responsibility of constructing a church building facing St. John Street at Second Street. Accordingly, the new Carpenter Gothic church was constructed by the shipbuilder’s art, and the first service was conducted there on the First Sunday of Advent, 1863. The church was consecrated by Bishop Kip in 1867.
Trinity Church, circa 1865
In 1871, church growth once again cast upon Captain Hammond construction responsibilities. His innovative solution was to cut the church in half, drag one half by horses ninety degrees to face Second Street and add a third arm. This radical architectural surgery resulted in the present church, ready for services by 1876. The church tower was completed in 1887 and a renovation undertaken in 1958.
Trinity Church, circa 1880
Trinity Church, circa 1887
Interior of Trinity Church, 1936
The pioneering spirit has prevailed at Trinity throughout its history, resulting in 10 area Episcopal congregations being formed from Trinity. In 1980, the Diocese of El Camino Real was carved out of the Diocese of California in 1980 to serve the counties of San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Monterey — areas once connected by the historic El Camino Real, the “Royal Road” linking the missions of California. Trinity Church became the diocesan cathedral.
Small by the standards of other cathedrals, Trinity looms large in the heritage of the Episcopal Church in California.
A big tip of the biretta to Trinity’s enthusiastic dean, Very Rev. David Bird, to the cathedral clergy and staff for their unending hospitality, and to Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves for her participation and interest in our project.
Oldest cathedral church: The Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo, Monterey, was founded as a mission church by Fr. Serra in 1770, and the present structure was completed in 1794. It became the pro-cathedral of the Diocese of Both Californias (then encompassing all of present-day California and Baja California) in 1840. It is the oldest cathedral church building in the United States, being completed three years before St. Augustine Cathedral in St. Augustine, Fla.
Newest cathedral: The Cathedral of Christ the Light, Oakland, will be dedicated in September 2008.
Largest cathedral: The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles, is the 10th largest cathedral in the world and the largest Roman Catholic cathedral in the United States. It covers 65,000 square feet and is 333 feet in length (one foot longer than St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York).
Smallest cathedral: The Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo, Monterey, is the smallest Roman Catholic cathedral in the continental United States.
First church built as a cathedral: The Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, San Francisco, (Old St. Mary’s) was built in 1854.
First Orthodox cathedral: Holy Trinity Cathedral (Orthodox Church in America), San Francisco, was founded as California’s first permanent Orthodox parish in 1864 and became the cathedral in 1870.
First Orthodox church built as a cathedral: The present Holy Trinity Cathedral (Orthodox Church in America), San Francisco, was constructed in 1909.
Oldest Episcopal cathedral church: Trinity Cathedral, San Jose, was constructed as a parish church in 1863.
First Episcopal church built as a cathedral: The second Grace Church in San Francisco, built in 1862, was unofficially known as “Grace Cathedral.” The new Grace Cathedral was established in 1910 as a successor to this church.
City with the most cathedrals: Los Angeles is home to nine cathedrals.
The Armenian community of California has deep Christian roots. The Gospel was brought to Armenia by the apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew in the First Century, and the Armenians were the first people to convert to Christianity as a nation in the year 301, when Christianity was still an illegal minority religion in the Roman Empire. They have retained a distinct form of Orthodox Christianity throughout their history as a people. They are not Eastern Orthodox, but Oriental Orthodox, a distinction they share with Christians of the Coptic, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Syrian and Malankara (Indian) traditions, all descended from the ancient patriarchate of Alexandria. Yet the Armenian Christian tradition is unique.
By the early 1800s, small numbers of Armenians began to immigrate to the United States, and their numbers increased in the late 1800s as they sought to escape persecution in the Ottoman Empire. By 1891, they had constructed the first Armenian church to be dedicated in the Western Hemisphere, The Church of Our Savior in Worcester, Mass.
Church of Our Savior, Worcester, Mass., circa 1891
And yet it is in the vast Central Valley that any California history of Armenians must begin. A large number of Armenian immigrants began to settle in the Fresno area by 1871. After several years of celebrating Divine Liturgy in local Protestant and Episcopal churches, the Fresno Armenian community constructed and dedicated the second Armenian church in the Western Hemisphere at F and Monterey Streets in 1900, Holy Trinity Church. That church was destroyed by fire in 1913, and ground was broken for a new church less than four months later at Ventura and M Streets in downtown Fresno. By 1914, the new church was built and dedicated. The new Holy Trinity Church was the first church in the United States built according to the principles of traditional Armenian architecture, although it was a Victorian adaptation of those concepts. It was designed by the first Armenian architect in America, Boghos Kondrajian (Lawrence Cone). Holy Trinity Church served as the cathedral for the new Western Diocese of the Armenian Church when it was established in 1927 (then called the California Prelacy).
Holy Trinity Church, Fresno
By 1907 an Armenian community had begun to develop in Los Angeles, and accordingly they sought the services of a priest from Fresno to celebrate the Badarak (Divine Liturgy) for them. Their Sunday worship was made possible by the hospitality of local Episcopal congregations, who allowed the Armenians the use of their churches (a close relationship between Armenians and Episcopalians in California made this a common arrangement). In 1921 the growing Armenian community bought a lot downtown at 420 E. 20th St., at Maple Street (in today’s Garment District) and completed the construction of Holy Cross Church in 1923, the first Armenian church built in Southern California.
Exterior of the first Holy Cross Church in downtown Los Angeles, circa 1923
Interior of first Holy Cross Church
In 1953, the congregation of Holy Cross Church chose to be aligned with the Catholicos of Cilicia in Lebanon rather than the Catholicos of Etchmiadzin in Armenia, as they had been to that point. The Cilicia jurisdiction of Armenians is represented in California by the Western Prelacy, based in La Crescenta with eight parishes; while the Etchmiadzin jurisdiction, the Western Diocese, is based in Burbank with 34 parishes. (That the Armenian Church has two branches, or catholicosates, is an historical anomaly and is merely jurisdictional, involving no disagreements in theology or practice.)
By the late 1950s, the dynamic and growing community of Holy Cross had outgrown their facilities downtown and in 1960 purchased land in Pico Rivera for a new school. The school opened in 1965, and it was decided by the congregation to build a new church in nearby Montebello on a five-acre plot on Lincoln Avenue, purchased in 1976. Plans for a new church building in the classical Armenian style were drawn up. The old church on 20th Street was sold to a Korean Methodist congregation and the final Badarak was celebrated there in July of 1978.
For the next three years, liturgy was celebrated in the school cafeteria as the congregation struggled — with great personal sacrifices — to raise funds for the new church building. They broke ground in 1980 and the first Badarak was celebrated in the new church in 1981. The church was finally consecrated in 1984 as the cathedral of the Western Prelacy.
Holy Cross Cathedral under construction
As the Southland’s first Armenian church, Holy Cross Cathedral claims as its spiritual children a number of other local Armenian churches. A true pioneering congregation, its status as a cathedral is a testament to the legacy it has given to the Armenian community of Southern California.
Many thanks to Fr. Ashod Kambourian, pastor of Holy Cross Cathedral, and Dr. Hagop Dikranian, board chairman, for their hospitality and for providing the archival photos and materials for the church history.
The Cathedral Center of St. Paul in the Echo Park district of Los Angeles stands as witness to much of the development of non-Roman Catholic Christianity in Southern California.
Its first predecessor congregation was St. Athanasius’ Episcopal Church, founded downtown in 1865 on the present site of City Hall. It was the first non-Catholic church in the city, and its members had been gathering for Anglican worship services since 1857 in the local Wells Fargo office. The congregation changed its name to St. Paul’s in 1881 and they built a new church at the foot of Bunker Hill where the Biltmore Hotel now stands. When the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles was organized in 1895, that church became the diocesan pro-cathedral.
First St. Paul’s Pro-cathedral at the current site of the Biltmore Hotel
In 1924, Bishop J. H. Johnson dedicated the new St. Paul’s Cathedral at 615 S. Figueroa St. at Wilshire Boulevard downtown, designed by architects Johnson, Kaufman and Coate. Partner Reginald Johnson was the son of Bishop Johnson, but his appointment was not about nepotism; he is recognized as a leading innovator in regional California architecture, and Paul Williams once worked under him. Johnson also designed All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena (1923), St. Alban’s Episcopal Church (1931) in the Westwood district of Los Angeles and the Post Office (1937) and Biltmore Hotel (1927) in Santa Barbara as well as many lavish private homes throughout the state. His partner Gordon Kaufmann designed the headquarters of the Los Angeles Times (1931) and the Athenaeum at Cal Tech (1931).
The architecture of the church was Romanesque, and its stained-glass windows depicted events of prominent bishops throughout history, beginning with St. Alban and ending with Bishop Johnson himself laying the cathedral cornerstone. The church drew the praise of the American Institute of Architects the following year as the best building constructed in Los Angeles during 1924.
Exterior of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral at Wilshire and Figueroa
Another view of the exterior of St. Paul’s Cathedral
Interior of St. Paul’s Cathedral
In 1958, St. Paul’s was granted the status of a full cathedral. Previously it had been a parish church serving the diocese as a pro-cathedral, but its operation and organization would now be the responsibility of the diocese. In 1962, the church was renovated; the apse was covered with a mosaic designed by the Judson Studios, the organ was improved, a new antiphonal organ installed and new windows — also by the Judson Studios — were installed.
Just five years after the 1965 celebration of the cathedral’s centennial, the 75th annual Diocesan Convention voted to lease the cathedral property to downtown developers, who would demolish the church. Bishop Francis Eric Bloy proposed that a new chapel to serve the existing congregation could be built near Good Samaritan Hospital, which would also accommodate the diocesan offices, then at 1220 W. Fourth St. Bishop Bloy also proposed that large diocesan liturgical celebrations could be held at St. John’s in West Adams or St. James’ in Mid-Wilshire. A short-lived campaign by a group called the Citizens Committee to Save St. Paul’s ultimately failed. The property was sold and the cathedral was demolished in 1979.
Demolition of St. Paul’s Cathedral
The diocese remained without a cathedral until the dedication of the Cathedral Center of St. Paul by Bishop Frederick H. Borsch in 1994 on the Echo Park site where the original congregation of St. Athansius had moved after splitting from St. Paul’s, thus reuniting the two congregations. The complex includes a small church with the historic cathedra from the old cathedral, a retreat center, administrative offices and community services.
Although we’ve already been referring to St. John’s Episcopal Church in Los Angeles as the new pro-cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles (due to a tip we received), the designation was made official on October 7 by Bishop Jon Bruno at the annual clergy conference. A service to inaugurate the new role for St. John’s will take place on February 2, 2008.
While technically a pro-cathedral, St. John’s will be called “St. John’s Cathedral” to avoid confusion. It will share status as the mother church of the Episcopal diocese with the Cathedral Center of St. Paul in Echo Park. According to the Very Rev. Canon Mark Kowalewski, dean of St. John’s, the new pro-cathedral will serve the liturgical functions of a cathedral.
This status of a pro-cathedral bearing the title of “cathedral” is nothing new for the Episcopal diocese here; the old St. Paul’s Cathedral downtown (demolished in 1979) was also technically a pro-cathedral for most of its existence. The new role for St. John’s was a long time coming, as talks on taking this move were afoot as early as the 1980s. According to Fr. Kowalewski, even as early as the 1920s the first rector of St. John’s had aspired to have the impressive new church named the diocesan cathedral.
As I mentioned in one of my previous postings about this cathedral, the “games” of light and shadows are one of the most interesting elements present in the church. The following images capture two details that really stood out to me: one is a ray of light entering one of the lateral windows; the other one is the light produced by some candles with a very dark background.
The relationship between the two elements (light and darkness) is a constant in the Sacred Scriptures as much as it is in our daily life - our choices, our dark and bright sides, day and night, good and evil.
Earthquakes play a major role in the history of California’s cathedrals. In the Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906, among the thousands of buildings destroyed were Old St. Mary’s Cathedral (1854), St. Francis Pro-cathedral (1849) and the pro-cathedral predecessor of Grace Cathedral. The Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 doomed Oakland’s Cathedral of St. Francis de Sales (1893) and San Francisco’s Greek Orthodox Annunciation Cathedral (1921) while the 1994 Northridge earthquake spelled the end for the Cathedral of St. Vibiana (1876) in Los Angeles and caused the Armenian diocese to abandon St. John Cathedral (1942) in Hollywood.
St. Francis Pro-cathedral and Old St. Mary’s Cathedral in ruins after the 1906 earthquake. Both were later rebuilt.
A statue of St. Emydius held a prominent place in the Cathedral of St. Vibiana. He is traditionally invoked against earthquakes. So what happened? Was Emydius asleep at the switch?
Emydius (also spelled Emidius or Emydigius) was a fourth-century German pagan who accepted Christianity. With a new convert’s zeal, he smashed a pagan idol in a temple in Rome. To save him from the authorities, Pope Marcellinus (or Marcellus I; the accounts are unclear) sent him into hiding as bishop for the region of Ascoli Piceno, where he was an effective missionary, baptizing many people. He was beheaded during the persecution under Diocletian. In 1703, the people of Ascoli Piceno invoked the protection of their first bishop during a violent earthquake, and gave him the credit when their city was left intact. Emydius became a popular saint in Los Angeles and San Francisco, for obvious reasons.
From the life of Emydius we learn something important about prayers of petition. First of all, the communion of saints is not a new pantheon of little gods with magical power over various natural events, or protectors we pray to so our lives may be more comfortable or prosperous. We ask the intercession of the saints in the same way we ask our living friends to pray for us; they pray to God, who alone has the power to intervene in human lives. More importantly, Emydius was a martyr. He believed there were more important things than just surviving or living a life free from hardship.
When faced with the witness of a martyr, we recall especially the petitionary attitude of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane the night he was arrested: “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass by me. But if not, your will be done.” This is the proper Christian approach when we ask anything of God: resignation to the fact that we do not always know what is best. We must have a loving trust in God to accept what comes our way, knowing that God will always pull good from evil, triumph from tragedy, power from pain.
St. Mary’s Cathedral (1891; the second of three San Francisco Catholic cathedrals of that name) was spared devastation in the 1906 earthquake and became a relief center feeding 2,000 people a day in the aftermath of the disaster. It was finally destroyed by fire in 1962.
I was living in one of the Park La Brea towers (a large apartment complex in the Miracle Mile District) in 1994 when the Northridge quake hit. My apartment was a mess; furniture and bookshelves toppled, dishes and kitchen utensils covering the floor, hundreds of books strewn about, and plaster rubble all over everything. (My two cats were so traumatized they would not emerge from under the bed for two days.) I went downstairs, and there my neighbors began to gather — people I had never met who lived in my building, some of them I had never even seen.
Of course I knew what would happen, because we Angelenos are no strangers to catastrophe. Just like in the riots two years before, we sat down and talked, exchanged stories, then the food began to show up. Everybody brought whatever they had to eat to the park in front of our building and the food became common property. We brought cars around, turned on the car radios to find out what was happening in the rest of the city. We learned about each other, because we had to. There was no electricity, no water, no television, no Internet. We exchanged advice and experience from previous earthquakes and when it got dark we all brought down to the park whatever candles we had to sit up late into the night talking.
Now there were many people worse off than we were; some even died. The point of the story is that our faith in God doesn’t offer us a way out, but a way through. If we are attentive, we can even draw good from bad things that happen, with the grace of God and the prayers of St. Emydius.
The question of what was the first Episcopal cathedral in the United States is somewhat complex, as it reflects an evolution in the ecclesiology of the Episcopal Church that is central to the very concept of a cathedral.
James Lloyd Breck (1818-1876) was an Episcopal priest, educator and missionary to the Native Americans who became a prominent advocate for the establishment of cathedrals for the Episcopal Church.
Although the first Anglican bishop in the United States, Samuel Seabury, had been ordained a bishop in 1784, the authority of the bishop in the Episcopal Church was not what it is today. As Breck explained in 1867, “After long years of waiting on Heaven-commissioned men, who ought to have acted for us with alacrity, we at length obtained the Episcopate for America! But the condition of things here had been so long that of a Presbyter-Church, it was not an easy matter to put the Bishop in his right place. He had been imported for only two things, Ordination and Confirmation! He had no cure in a Diocese beyond these, except he went down to the rank of a Priest, in which case he could become the Rector of a Parish.”
Breck was heavily influenced by the Oxford Movement, which advocated a return to more ancient practices in the Anglican Communion. Key to the restoration of the role of bishop in the Episcopal Church, according to Breck, was the establishment of cathedrals, an idea avoided in the formative years of the new American church. Early Episcopal bishops who dared to wear a mitre, set up a cathedra or speak of cathedrals often faced stiff opposition from clergy and laity.
Cathedral of Our Merciful Savior, Faribault, Minn.
In 1862, as founder of Nashotah House in Minnesota, Breck worked with the bishop of Minnesota, Henry Whipple, to organize what is often said to be the first Episcopal cathedral, in Faribault, Minn. The Cathedral of Our Merciful Savior, a gothic church designed by James Renwick, was dedicated in 1869. Thus, while the Episcopal Church was an established presence in the East, the frontier became the place where tradition was re-established.
The Faribault cathedral is not without rival claimants to being the first Episcopal cathedral. Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral (Chicago, 1862; destroyed by fire in 1921) St. Paul’s Cathedral (Buffalo, 1866) and All Saints Cathedral (Milwaukee, 1873) all lay claim to this title. The Cathedral of All Saints (Albany, 1888) claims to be the first “Episcopal Cathedral in America built on the English and Continental model of bishop’s church, school and hospital.”
Perhaps because of differences in how these early Episcopal cathedrals were organized (many appear to be parish churches acting as pro-cathedrals), there is the further distinction of which is the first “full cathedral.” The Cathedral of St. John the Divine (New York, founded 1873; dedicated 1941) and the Cathedral Church of Ss. Peter and Paul (Washington National Cathedral, founded 1893; dedicated 1976) appear to be the first to have this distinction, for when St. Paul’s Cathedral in Los Angeles was granted this status in 1957, reports indicated that St. Paul’s would thus join the ranks of these two “full cathedrals.”
The question of what constitutes the first Episcopal cathedral in the United States appears to be open to debate, and no doubt some of our more learned Episcopal brothers and sisters can further enlighten us in the comments section. But one thing is clear: the influence of the Oxford Movement and the devoted missionary James Breck have left their mark. Something to think about each April 2, when the Episcopal Church commemorates James Breck on its liturgical calendar.