St. John’s Cathedral on 8th Street was finished in 1921. 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.
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.
Construction was suspended during World War I and then resumed in 1919. The Cathedral was constructed out of Boise sandstone even though the original plans were to use brick. 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.
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.
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.
Thanks to Michael Kurdy, docent at St. John’s for providing much of this information
-Parking Lot & Playground-
The parking lot for St. John’s Cathedral was in desperate need of restoration. The pavement was cracked and crumbling, the gates were dysfunctional, and the landscaping was not reflective of the historic nature of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.
The prominent location of the cathedral and the parking lot make them a gateway of sorts for pedestrians walking from downtown up 8th Street. The new arching iron gateways bare the words St. Joseph’s School and St. John’s Cathedral with a matching iron fence, mirroring the arches of the corbels in the cathedral behind.
INSIGHT Architects were brought on board to create a gateway for a church, a school and the historic North End of Boise in the renovation of St. John’s parking lot and playground.
The playground boasts new asphalt designed to last and resist the weather. New trees, shrubs and sidewalk also adorn the sides of the fence, meant to complement the existing gardens on the south side of the Cathedral. Using the same materials and lines was important to preserving the integrity and historical presence of the cathedral.
Additionally with the safety of the St. Joe’s Schoolchildren in mind, the fence and moveable gates allow students to play and grow without fear of incidents with passing cars.
This unique landscape design is certainly worthy of an Orchid Awards in Preservation-Sensitive New Construction. We are glad to honor INSIGHT Architects and Father Jerry Funke of St. John’s Cathedral for this project with the 2016 Preservation-Sensitive New Construction Orchid.
Accepting the award during the 39th Annual Orchids and Onions Award Luncheon was Father Jerry Funke, Rector of St. John?s Cathedral and Russ Phillips of INSIGHT Architects.