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Entering St. Mark’s Cathedral – 1245 Tenth Avenue East – Capitol Hill – Seattle, WA

The second thing that grabs your attention after entering St. Mark’s is how much of the interior is unfinished. White wash paint over the bare concrete walls is the most common finish material used. The sum effect of this semi incomplete state is puzzling to a first time visitor that doesn’t know its history. I was one of those people.

In 1865 Trinity Church was founded and became the seed for a number of other Episcopal churches around Seattle. St. Mark’s is one of those and was founded in 1890 at Stewart and 5th, near the current day Macy’s store. In 1897 the Church moved to a larger building on First Hill at Seneca and Broadway. In 1923 the land for the cathedral was purchased and in 1928 building began.

This was a huge mistake because the whole economy went to hell because of the Great Depression. Sounds a lot like what happened to the economy, and the real estate market in particular, during the mid 2000’s.

Rather than shutting the whole project down the Parish plowed ahead like Christian soldiers and completed the building as it exists today; basically a huge concrete box that has a lot more in common with a Costco warehouse, aesthetically speaking, than the great cathedrals of Europe.

In 1941 the Parish defaulted on its mortgage and the lenders shut the building down and stuck a for sale sign out front along 10th Avenue. I am guessing that the lenders had more that a few sleepless nights while trying to figure out how sell what essentially was a white elephant – when you get to down to the bottom line there isn’t much of a market for cathedral in a depression.

So it sat there empty for two years until the U. S. Army took it over as an anti-aircraft gun training center until the end of World War II. This bit of ugliness turned out to the church’s salvation because it stimulated the economy enough so the Parish was able to reclaim St. Mark’s and pay off the mortgage by 1947.

When your enter the building its huge volume, which seats about 1100 people, is first thing you feel; the second thing comes quickly after that.

The third thing you notice is that this is a humble cathedral and its Parish seems to perfectly grasp this notion. A church’s work is never complete – doesn’t it make sense that the physical building reflects this relationship between the parish and parishioners?

Its beauty is bound tightly, in part, to its austerity. A more significant portion of its beauty is in the voices I heard around me, murmuring, scripture quietly and speaking with compassion to each other.

Copyright 2012 By Katherine Johnson – All Rights Reserved.

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