A History of St. Paul’s Cathedral circa 1909

ST. PAUL’S Parish has the distinction of being the first of the organized parishes of the Episcopal Church in the Northwest. It was instituted November 22, 1824. As the first parish in this region it was confronted by grave responsibilities and duties which it cheerfully assumed and discharged. From the beginning it has contributed generously both of money and of devoted laymen toward the extension of the Church. It has achieved much for the Diocese. It has given of its life to establish other parishes. It has renewed and reinforced them. While the Church was being planted in this region, and before the Diocese was able to provide for the maintenance of a Bishop, St. Paul’s church alone for thirteen years provided in full that support. In his “Annals of St. Paul’s Church” . Dr. Clark states the simple truth when he says that this parish “has been closely associated with affairs of more than local interest, and I has been the starting point of agencies for church extension,not only in Michigan, but in regions beyond which once belonged to the Diocese.

“There is probably in this section of the country no church which has a more worthy line of generous workers and of laymen who have devoted themselves to the extension and maintenance of the Episcopal Church than that of St. Paul’s Parish. The names of these men are worthy of remembrance, and the work which has been performed by them entitled to grateful recognition.”

Since its organization this Parish has had four places of worship: A brief description of these is offered as a fitting preface to the architect’s account of the new church now in process of construction. It was in the Indian Council House on Jefferson avenue, near Randolph street, that St. Paul’s Parish was organized. On June 30 of the following year-that is, in 1825.-the charter was granted to the church, which-as amended December 9, 1850 stands today.

Of the Council House Dr. Clark writes: “It was not a very capacious building, not very sumptuous in the furnishings, not especially ecclesiastical in its appointments, but it served its purpose well
…. It was the cradle of the Episcopal Church in Michigan. For three years the Parish worshiped in the Council house, and at the Fort, and then erected its first church on Woodward avenue.”

This was the first Gothic church building in Michigan, and it seems eminently fitting that in adopting plans for the building now in process of construction,and which in God’s good providence seems destined to stand for centuries, the same noble style of architecture, carried to a much higher degree of perfection’ should have been chosen. In this new building, we believe’ will be realized in part at least the dream and aspiration of those first builders.

It was on the 10th day of August, 1827 that the corner-stone of this first building was laid by the Rt. Rev. John Henry Hobart.D. D., Bishop of the State of New York’ The next year Bishop Hobart returned and on the 2rtth day of August consecrated the new church.

In the course of time the congregation out-grew this first church. It was enlarged in 1834. But “for a long time there was no place for strangers, nor very much welcome for them’ A new element having come in, the subject of a new church was agitated and plans drawn. The plea that the church was adequate for the purposes of those who built it, and who then occupied it, did not hold. The historic and family associations then were strong. Where the church was to be located was also the occasion of some dispute.”

Eventually the first church building and site were sold, a lot was purchased on the corner of Congress and Shelby streets, and a second church building, occupied by this Parish for almost fifty years, was erected. This building is so well remembered as to make any description of it here unnecessary. The cornerstone of this second church was laid August 13, 1851. It was a beautiful and dignified structure, one in which there was the spirit of worship, and which has left a lasting impression on those who assembled within it.

An account of the return of St. Paul’s to Woodward avenue is given by Dr. Clark in the following words:

“It was on the 18th of July, 1892, that the lot on the corner of Woodward and Hancock avenues was purchased; the lot, 250×177 feet, was deemed adequate for a church spacious enough for the demands of a city as distinguished from a village church. It was felt that in Detroit a time might come when instead of the multiplication of little churches, taxing the corporate strength of a city and Diocese, there would be a demand for a Church which would be large enough to serve as a source of supply for city work as well as one that might compare favorably with its domestic and commercial architecture. Such a time of advancement has come in other large cities.
“There never has been, and there is not now any lack of money among us, when there is a proper understanding as to a fit object. There are always to be found men who are looking about for some place to put their money where they can be assured and have a guarantee that it will do the most good. The members of a church doing well their own part invite and receive co-operation. What those who are members of the church have to look out for, is that they themselves and any large undertaking that they have in hand, should be worthy of the co-operation expected.”

The present parish building, with its chapel’ was the gift of Mr. Theodore H. Eaton 2d, who built it in the memory of his mother, Mrs Anne E. Eaton, who became a communicant of the parish in 1842 and who died in 18?9. The furnishing of the building was undertaken by the Ladies’ Guild.

The subscriptions and payments for lot and parish building were as follows:

Subscriptions paid to February 15, 1897…..$10,402.50
Other subscriptions. ….775.00
Subscriptions of T. H. Eaton…..72,462.98
From the Literary Society…..268.10
From other societies and Sunday school…..3800.00
Proceeds of sale of Congress street lot…..39,106.02
Total amount spent for lot and chapel to date…..’$126,252.27

THE PLANS for Saint Paul’s Cathedral are the result of co-operation of the Building Committee and the architects, and are the guiding lines whereby a structure is rising which will be a logical and visible expression of a powerful, indestructible institution, to be consecrated to the service of God for the well-being of mankind. As the Cathedral church is the highest form of the art of expressing structural truth and beauty in the fabric of the most exalted building that may be built by man, such a structure, to be the outward expression of the continuity of the historical and dogmatic church, must needs be the result of most hearty work in collaboration of clergy, committee and architects and is not the work of a few months, but of years of untiring energy in the study and development of the best possible manner of every detail that is contributed to complete the ensemble.

Cruciform in plan, Saint Paul’s Cathedral offers to the architect an opportunity which he is ever ready and anxious to grasp to create an exterior of convincing dignity, the mass of the building striking in its composition and placing before the eye at once an insight into the structure as a whole, for every contrast of wall surface, transepts, tower, clerestory, aisles, buttresses, turrets and fenestration speaks of those units in justice fulfilling the expectancy of the lover of Gothic forms, which go to make the interior vast and impressive, instantly inspiring and commanding reverence. The
design, generally speaking, may be said to be in the style of the English 15th century Gothic, although many forms and details are in the manner of the 14th century, while in the conception of the west front, no effort has been made to conceal the fact that its inspiration is derived from the most impressive facades in the world, those of the 13h and 14th century in France, but great care has been exercised to adapt the forms and details of these distinct styles and bring them into harmony so that with the great soaring tower, which is inspired from that splendid example of English architecture, the one of Gloucester Cathedral completed during the years of the most glorious period of Christian architecture, is but the crowning glory of a continuity of styles of easy and pleasing transition.

The exterior of the Cathedral is severe in design, rather than elaborate and intricate, as often happens in late Gothic work. The lower portion of the building is exceedingly plain, but develops in interest and variety of detail toward the top and eastern bays. In the design of the west front the architects firmly believe a facade will be developed which will be exceedingly effective for a cathedral building of moderate dimensions and will overcome some of the uninteresting features of most of the English cathedral fronts. The principal inspiration in the designing of this elevation was from the best examples of the world, those of the great French cathedral fronts and the abbeys of England, in the ruins of which the purest examples of Gothic architecture have been left to us. The main portal is formed by one deeply moulded arch flanked by two staircase turrets contained within the great buttresses. Above the portal an open arcade, accessible from the interior, binds across the front. Above, the continuation of the roofs of the aisles will end the portion of the first construction of the nave, the clerestory being omitted for future building. Although the design of the finished front is not yet absolutely agreed upon, the building of the foundation and present super structure determine in a general way its completion as outlined in the design. The scheme already drawn is for a splendid rose window contained within a great arch, which in turn is offset by massive buttresses developing from the projecting ends of the aisles. Across the top over the great arch and between the turrets is another connecting gallery, beyond which appears the gable of the nave roof. The northern and southern porches,like the main portal, are of massive construction and form the common entrance to the narthex across the western end of the nave. As the clerestory and choir are approached, the wall surfaces become more broken and interesting in their treatment, the great transepts cut through the mass of the lofty nave and aisles and by the change in direction of wall surfaces gives relief to what would otherwise become a monotony of repetition. The choir, with its secondary transepts and variety of window openings, leads to the beginning of the great crossing tower, which becomes more ornamented than any other part of the building, with niches for sculptures of many saints, shafts and pinnacles, mullioned windows and traceried panels, gradually overspreading the entire surface and ending in four great great battlemented finials.

The interior of the Cathedral, true to well established principles of effective proportions, must, when complete, be most religiously and esthetically impressive. A large seating capacity has been obtained, the majority of the seats commanding an uninterrupted view of the altar, pulpit and lectern. While all the adjuncts for the service of the Church in America are secured, the historical precedent of type of plan and order of architectural expression is maintained. Within the confines of a very compact plan the chapels, aisles, transepts, and ambulatories are so disposed as to be seen to advantage through a succession of receding columns and arches, giving to the whole interior a mystical charm so necessary to the church interior and of which there are many striking examples in the cathedral churches of England and France. Like the exterior, the architectural treatment is noticeably severe and the ultimate effect is dependent upon stately proportion and skill in the design and execution of detail. The principal lighting is from the windows of the aisles filtering through the lofty arcades into the nave, the transepts with great traceried openings and the crossing by the great lantern of the tower, the choir with a higher light from a range of windows above the arcade and a group of five lancets in the east wall. The screen supporting the western gallery may be simply or elaborately treated in wood or stone. The nave, transepts and crossing are dignified in their simplicity of treatment. The great circular tower piers express clearly the tremendous strain they have to bear in supporting in safety the massive masonry construction above. The roof ceiling throughout is designed to be of oak, divided by the great roof trusses, panelled and further decorated with shields bearing the heraldically colored arms of the dioceses of the church in England and America. The opportunity for memorials in splendid colored and leaded glass is ideal and in the selection of design and color, and leaded glass is ideal and in the selection of design and color.for this most necessary feature lies one of the greatest responsibilities, if esthetic results are to be considered,in the art of church building.

Until the choir has been reached every detail of the Cathedral has been marked by rigid severity but here a noticeable increase of richness in architectural forms, decoration and furniture is to take place. The possibilities for splendor in the embellishment of every detail of the choir and side chapels are without number. From the pavement to decorated oaken ceiling, memorials in wood, stone, choice marbles and precious metals may be placed as a most fitting means of beautifying the passage to the sanctuary and the high altar, which with its reredos and glorious eastern windows should be the most impressively beautiful expression of the handiwork of man in the entire fabric of the church; one and all to the glory of God.

 A Few Facts about the General Construction Work now going on

THE EXTREME length of the building is 208 feet. The extreme width across the transept is 90 feet. The width of the front or nave section, extending toward Woodward avenue, is 62 feet and the width between the columns of the interior is 32 feet.

From the vestibule to the chancel is 119 feet, and the length of the chancel is 68 feet, with a width of 82 feet.

Many have asked the reason for adopting smooth stone for the exterior, and why it should not have been made to match the rough stone of the Parish House. The reason is: 1st: Because the style decided upon by the architects admitted of greater refinement of line and mass than is possible with rough stone.
2nd: Because as architectural design gradually developed from the crude and rustic forms of earlier times there appeared a greater refinement of form and mass which would not have been possible with the earlier crude materials. As the style adopted belongs to a period of the greatest refinement in Gothic architecture, the rough treatment would have been out of harmony with the details of this style.

The many vertical lines of piers and buttresses running aloft from the ground, receding at intervals toward the body of the structure, are the principal factors tending to a graceful outline, and to interfere with these lines by the use of rough stone would mar the beauty of the forms and produce a distracting element in the unity and proportion of the details of the entire fabric.

3rd: Where little ornamentation is allowable for economical reasons, each little mould, column or wrought detail must be depended upon for its full share in the beautification of the wall surfaces and so is very much more effective if contrasted with a plain adjoining surface than if such surface were rough’ As the simplicity of this design requires absolute adherence to these principals to obtain the best effect,it logically determines the character of the wall finish.

Then, too, the windows with their tracery and the moulded arches of door and window heads take their place as so many more ornamental points of interest that require plain wall surface sto set them off to the best advantage. As one of the fundamental laws of decorative art is that of “contrast” whether in the treatment of surfaces,by varying degrees of relief work, or by contrasts of color’ so is the beauty of an architectural mass dependent upon the proportion of its parts, and the details of these parts must be so put together that no discordant element is produced to mar the symmetry of the whole.

The original source document of this article, in its entirety, is uploaded in St Paul’s 1909.