Monday, February 23, 2015

St. James Cathedral, Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger

 [St. James Cathedral (1875) Faulkner & Clarke, architects; (1889) Edward J. Neville Stent, stencil muralist; (1985) restoration, Walker Johnson, Holabird & Root, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

As August 1871 nudged its way into September, the people of Chicago were hoping that the new calendar page might bring some relief from an incredibly hot and dry summer. On the city's north side, the parishioners of St. James Episcopal parish were looking forward to the dedication service of their recently completed bell tower - scheduled for early September. The tower marked the end of a 14-year, incrementally expanding construction project that had managed to turn a small stone church holding 260 people, into a house of worship capable of holding 1,200. On October 10, 1871, in the aftermath of the the Great Fire fire and just one month after the elaborate and well-attended dedication, all that was left standing of the north side's most prominent church building was a section of stone wall - and its virtually intact 140-foot tower.

  [St. James Cathedral, 671 N. Wabash Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

St. James was organized in 1834, one year after the incorporation of the town of Chicago. The young parish held their first services in the Presbyterian church, and at founding member John H. Kinzie's Tippecanoe Hall, located at the southeast corner of Kinzie and Wolcott (now State) Streets. In 1837, Kinzie gave the St. James Society a piece of land he owned at the corner of Cass (now Wabash) Avenue and Illinois Street to build a church. Kinzie's wife Juliette became the patron saint of St. James, and was known around town as "Kinzie's church."

  [St. James Cathedral  /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

By 1855, the parish had outgrown its original home and they purchased an empty plot of land at the corner of Cass and Huron Streets, where they intended to build a church in a newly developing north side neighborhood. The new building - consecrated in December 1857 - sat at the back of the large corner lot and over the next decade-and-a-half, in bits and pieces, grew out to the far edges of the property line. The soaring bell tower was the final piece of architect Edward Burling's ever-expanding design, and was dedicated to the memory of parishioners who had lost their lives in the Civil War. Although the tower somehow miraculously survived the fire, the bells were found in the base, a pile of completely melted iron ore. Work on a new building began almost immediately, and while architects Faulkner & Clarke virtually replicated Burling's Gothic Revival exterior around the surviving tower, they increased the size of the sanctuary to include enough room for over 500 more worshipers, and the rebuilt church was consecrated on October 10, 1875 - exactly 4 years after it had burned to the ground. Then in 1888, artist Edward J. Neville Stent went to work on the interior and began a stenciling job which included 24 different colors in 25 different patterns that took him over a year to complete.

  [St. James Cathedral /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Big changes came to St. James in 1955 when the former parish church became the seat of the Episcopal diocese's bishop and was designated a cathedral. By that time the residential character of the old neighborhood had changed - and so had the cathedral's interior. Stent's stencils had been painted over in a single monochromatic color whose neutral tones kept the the artist's stunning artwork under cover until an extensive restoration was undertaken in 1985. Overseen by architect Walker Johnson of Holabird & Root, the interior was restored back to its glistening former self and now holds the title as the largest example of Victorian-era, Arts & Crafts stencil work in the United States.

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