Cathedrals of California, A Virtual Pilgrimage

St. John’s Named Cathedral for Episcopal Diocese

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

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.

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St. John’s Pro-cathedral IV: The Light

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

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. 

Saint John’s Pro-Cathedral - wide angle shot of columns

Candles at Solemn vespers

Window in St. John's Pro-cathedral

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St. John’s Pro-cathedral III: History

Saturday, September 22nd, 2007

Founded in 1890 as a mission and made a parish the following year, St. John’s Episcopal Church has always been located at the corner of Adams and Figueroa. At the time, West Adams was the most desirable area of the city, dense with grand mansions.

In 1913, Rev. George Davidson became rector of the parish, and led a period of growth that overwhelmed the small church building. In 1919 it was announced that a new church would be constructed on the site. The initial announcement in the Los Angeles Times showed a sketch by local architects Montgomery and Montgomery of an English Gothic structure.

Original Sketch of a Gothic Design for St. John’s Church

Montgomery and Montgomery sketch of proposed Gothic church for St. John’s

The building committee of the parish decided against the Montgomery & Montgomery plan, and in 1920 hired the prominent New York architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, who would go on to design the Los Angeles Central Library downtown (1924) and the Nebraska state capitol (1924). Perhaps the parishioners of St. John’s turned to Goodhue because of his striking success with the Byzantine-Romanesque style of St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church (1913) on Park Avenue in New York. Goodhue and his partner Ralph Adams Cram were reigning American proponents of Gothic Revivalism, exemplified by St. Thomas Episcopal Church (1906) on Fifth Avenue in New York, but Goodhue had recently been exploring other styles.

Eventually, however, in a competition the parish selected the local architects Walter and F. Pierpont Davis, who were largely responsible for developing the distinctive Los Angeles architectural genre of courtyard apartments; many of the finest existing examples of this residential style are the work of Davis and Davis, such as the famous Villa d’Este Apartments in West Hollywood. The Davis brothers believed that Mediterranean architecture was best suited to Los Angeles, and accordingly they designed an impressive Italian Romanesque structure for the congregation. Ground was broken in 1923 and the new church was dedicated in 1924.

In a 1925 New Year’s Day feature, the Los Angeles Times proudly reported that 62 new churches were built in the city during 1924 — among them St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral downtown — adding to the previous total of 412 churches in the city. The church building boom of the Roaring ’20s would continue to result in magnificent landmark houses of worship in Los Angeles, many of them along Wilshire Boulevard, until the Crash of 1929 put an abrupt end to the fevered construction of grand religious monuments in the city.

We sometimes forget the importance of libraries. So I should mention that I researched this post in the Los Angeles Times archive at the very Central Libary designed by Goodhue. Go there sometime!

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St. John’s Pro-cathedral II

Monday, September 17th, 2007

Last Saturday I was very pleased to be introduced to what – to my eye – appeared to be one of the most impressive examples of religious architecture in Los Angeles. 

St. John’s Episcopal Church is a mix of Romanesque style and Byzantine elements (which can easily recall Ravenna’s mosaics). The richness of the decorations inside the structure was a great source of inspiration for me, starting from the magnificent red-tinted cross floating above the altar, to the lateral golden chapel portraying a Medieval Virgin Mary.


Interior of the church, overall view

Interior of St. John Pro-cathedral 

Anglican-Armenian Solemn Vespers Service, in a haze of incense

Solemn Vespers

Archbishop Derderian (foreground) and Bishop Bruno incense the cross

Solemn Vespers

Lighting of the candles at the beginning of the ceremony 

I couldn’t have been more intrigued by all the “games of light” that take place in the church: they certainly contribute to creating a very mystical atmosphere that ranges from very dark corners to extremely lit wall sections. These variations are very visible in some images I will later post on this blog.

Bishop Bruno preaching

Bishop Jon Bruno preaches to the assembly

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St. John’s Pro-cathedral I: The Triumph of the Khachkar

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

Today Francesco, Jim and I were able to do a photo shoot at St. John’s Episcopal Church in the West Adams/North University Park District of Los Angeles (near USC). We received a tip that that this beautiful and historic church, dedicated in 1924, will soon be named the pro-cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. We don’t feel we’re spilling any beans here, as Episcopal Bishop Jon Bruno referenced this fact publicly in his sermon there tonight at solemn vespers in honor of the 80th anniversary of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America.

(The Roman Catholic Archdiocese also commemorated the Armenian anniversary at a solemn vespers service jointly presided over by Cardinal Roger Mahony and the Armenian primate Archbishop Hovnan Derderian a few weeks ago at St. James the Less Church in La Crescenta, which I also attended, flanked by Roman and Armenian deacons. There the Armenian primate made a gift of a hand-carved wooden crosier in the Armenian style to Cardinal Mahony, which Derderian jokingly said was made to the primate’s height, somewhat less that Mahony’s towering stature.)

We spent the afternoon taking many photos of the lovely Italian Romanesque interior of the soon-to-be pro-cathedral. And in the evening, we were blessed to participate in the solemn vespers service, jointly presided over by Bishop Bruno and Archbishop Derderian of the Armenian diocese. The service commemorated the Triumph of the Cross, a feast celebrated by both the Eastern and Western Churches on September 14.

During the service, Archbishop Derderian made a gift of a traditional Armenian khachkar, or stone cross, carved especially for the Episcopal Diocese (as well as an Armenian pectoral cross which Bishop Bruno immediately wore, and hand-written icons for suffragan bishops Chester Talton and Sergio Carranza). The service was attended by clergy and laity of both traditions, and music from both Armenian and Episcopal choirs made for a very prayerful experience. I was pleased to run into my friend Matthew Ash of the Armenian diocese, who has been ordained a deacon! Blessings to Matt on his new ministry. Another familiar face was Fr. Rick Byrum of Holy Trinity and St. Benedict Episcopal Church in Alhambra, who will be my roomie on our upcoming interfaith pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

The entire day was wonderful, and we owe special thanks to Canon Mark Kowalewski, rector of St. John’s; Fr. Dan Ade, senior associate of St. John’s; and of course my good friend Dr. Gwynne Guibord, ecumenical and interfaith officer of the Episcopal diocese, for their gracious hospitality.

Look for Francesco to post some amazing photos of this day shortly.

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