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St John's Cathedral

Area Address Building Status Architectural Style
Downtown 775 N 8th St
Boise, Idaho 83702
Public Romanesque

St. John's Cathedral on 8th Street was finished in 1921. The first Catholic Church in the area was St. Joseph's in Idaho City which burned down in 1867. St. Joseph's School which is next to St. John's is named in memory for this church. Then, in 1870, Boise's first Catholic Church, St. Patrick's, located on the same block as the old St. Al's Hospital was, was finished. Unfortunately, the structure burnt down seven days after it was finished! The Diocese of Boise originally built St. John's where the downtown Yen Ching restaurant is now located. The parish quickly outgrew this location and Bishop Alphonse Glorieux decided to buy the current location on 9th and Hays St. Originally, there was an attempt to move the old church to its new location but along the way, the building brushed a electric line and caught fire, partially burning. So Bishop Glorieux approached the architectural firm Tourtellette and Hummel to design it. Mr. Tourtellette originally proposed a Gothic design and Mr. Hummel suggested a Romanesque design. The Romanesque design was chosen and the corner stone was laid in 1906. Bishop Gorman decreed that the parish would not go into debt in building the new cathedral and therefore progress was slow. Construction was suspended during World War I and then resumed in 1919. The Cathedral was constructed out of Boise sandstone even though supposedly the original plans were to use brick. But, as the story goes, the Baptist church was being constructed at the same time out of brick and so sandstone was chosen to match the beauty of St. Michael's. The parish was not to be outdone by the Episcopalians! St. John's was finished with the roof and towers complete on Easter in 1921 after an incredible amount of work was completed in the last two years. Finishing it that quickly was said to be its own "miracle" despite the fact that due to cost cutting, the originally designed pointed towers were truncated to be flat. The interior of the cathedral highlights the Romanesque design. Features include 3 feet thick walls to support the heavy slate roof, round wide arches, slanted windowsills, and bright colored painting. The many beautiful stained glass windows are mostly colored glass with only the faces of the figures painted on. The windows were designed and installed mostly by the John Kinsella Glass Company of Chicago, but the Holy Spirit window was done by the Rambusch Decorating Company of New York. The painted ceiling is a false ceiling done on canvas. The walls have both painting and plaster work featuring animals such as the lion who is the protector of the church and gargoyles who are said to be cursed for their sins to a life of holding the church up. The church also features "corbels" or looping rows of small, round arches that travel across the walls and at the bottom of the organ chamber in the back of the nave. Currently, much of the marble used in the front of the church is specifically from Sienna, and the rest of the marble in the Cathedral is from Italy. After years of candle smoke had sullied much of the inside of the church, the parish asked Mr. Hummel's grandson Charles Hummel to renovate the inside of the cathedral in the early 1970s. Extensive work was done including pulling the altar forward, cleaning the paintings and touching them up with new paint as necessary, and replacing the floor. Mr. Hummel evidently did not want anyone to see the inside during the remodel as it was so extensive, he suggested that he "might be the next one crucified." Obviously, 35 years later, it is just as beautiful as the day it was finished in 1974. Finally, to celebrate St. John's centennial of the laying of the corner stone, the outside and the basement was recently renovated to include improved walkways and landscaping. The basement now features in many places walls of sandstone on the inside of the church giving it a rough look reminiscent of Roman catacombs! The mix of rough stone with the sable wood colors create a beautiful space downstairs. All together, St. John's Cathedral is one of Boise's finest structures and certainly a can't miss local architectural treasure. Thanks to Michael Kurdy, docent at St. John's for providing much of this information

Building submitted by Mr. Doug StanWiens

User Comments

Neveah - Apr 12, 2013
I just hope wheveor writes these keeps writing more!

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The BAP is an education project, not a commercial site. All pictures on this website were taken by BAP participants unless otherwise noted. Student research was compiled from interviews with building owners, architects, and/or occupants, with help from preservation experts in the community. We try our best to do quality research but we cannot guarantee the veracity of our oral and historical research. If you see an inaccuracy, please help us by emailing BAP advisor Doug StanWiens at info@boisearchitecture.org.