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Cathedral Church of St. Paul reflects Gothic influences
By Kathleen Ostrander

The Cathedral Church of St. Paul has been described as a church that prompts one to kneel and say a prayer. It is that and more. It is a place of reverence and authority. It is a place that has an aura of power and a sense that the prayer will be heard and heeded.

The South Second Street location of the church is its third. It has been a cathedral, or traditional seat of the diocesan bishop for more than 100 years.

The cathedral moved to its present location nearly 100 years ago.

Ironically, the move was because of the constant pounding of trains traveling past the second location, according to the Rev. Martha Bradley.

The cathedral even has a Lincoln connection. The Rev. Charles Dresser, the first rector, lived in a one-story frame house on Eighth Street, and that house was later purchased by Abraham Lincoln. It was Dresser, who performed the Lincoln-Todd marriage.

The parochial register, noting the marriage, is in the church archives.

Stone from the second church, Sangamon sandstone, was used for walls and pillars in the new cathedral. Part of the base of a massive tower at the second church forms part of the base of the tower at the present church.

The architectural style is English Perpendicular Gothic, and it was planned and approved with the help of the diocesan architect in Chicago as well as Ralph Adams Cram, a Boston architect.

The entrance is on Second Street at the base of an imposing 70-foot high battlemented tower with a statue of St. Paul. Through the massive wooden front door, a series of arches carries the eye up and to the front where a huge chancel arch, compared  - when the church was built - to the chancel arch at the Taj Mahal, sets off the altar area.

The arches are outlined in brick, and the recurring shapes not only guide the eye up - churches were traditionally designed to carry the eye and the spirit up to lofty heights - but also to suggest a depth and breadth to the area.

The beautiful wood throughout the church offsets the austerity of the stone, and the stained glass windows pour streams of colored light into the nave as well as the chancel area. The windows are distinctive in that some feature scenes from the rosary. The Cathedral Church of St. Paul is one of only a few Episcopal churches in the United States that have religious images on the stained glass windows.

The windows were crafted by The Willet Co. of Philadelphia. The glass was imported from Belgium and done in the medieval style, which means every part of the window has a meaning.

The main altar at St. Paul's, which was moved out from the reredos several years ago in keeping with church sentiment to include the congregation in the prayers said from the altar, is made of Caen stone as are the shelves above it.

The stone was brought from a quarry in France and was one of the last shipments before World War I closed off the shipping lanes.

The carving was done to complement the carvings and lines of the church and on the front is the monogram IHS, which signifies that "Jesus is the Alpha and Omega." The top of the altar is marble and the Tabernacle door is burnished bronze.

The spectacular reredos is charged of Black Forest walnut. It was installed in 1920 by Alois Lang, a German woodcarver. Lang, a master carver, is considered one of the country's most prominent ecclesiastical woodcarvers. His works are in numerous cathedrals and churches around the United States.

The reredos is richly detailed and with extensive iconography. It is crowned on top by the Christus Rex. In 1990, newly carved canopies matching the reredos were installed over the bishop's throne and sedelia. A brass lectern in the chancel is a beautifully ornate eagle symbolizing the Lord lifting up congregants on eagles' wings.

The church uses the original baptismal font, and some of the original artwork is included in the church as well as an area off to the side, which functions as a chapel.


Story published Friday, December 4, 2009 ( Volume 4, Number 7 )

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