Though it might be overshadowed by the nearby Idaho State Capitol building, St. Michael’s Episcopal Cathedral is a sight to behold, historically speaking. Dedicated in 1902, said cathedral boasts the title of the first Northwestern cathedral. Each Sunday, at least 300 members of the Boise community attend services held at the cathedral. In addition to the grand architecture, originally designed by Henry M. Cogdon and probably slightly altered by Charles F. Hummel, the congregation participates in many helpful ministries benefiting those less fortunate in the Boise area. The history and its connection to Boise, and the architectural significance and style are two important aspects to the building that is St. Michael’s Cathedral.
St. Michael’s Cathedral recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. That means one hundred years of beauty have shown on downtown Boise. It all started with a priest, the first of the Episcopalian ministers, named St. Michael Fackler from whom is derived the name of the cathedral. He raised $1500 in gold to form St. Michael’s church, named after the archangel. This church can now be found outside Bronco Stadium. This is important not only because of its continued existence through years of development, but the name has significance. Not only is the cathedral named after the archangel, like the church was, but also after the original Episcopalian minister of Idaho, St. Michael Fackler. As for funding, the new cathedral would eventually cost somewhere around $25,000. St Michael’s church would become fundamental in raising funds for the building now located behind the capitol. Social events, concerts, and dances hosted by the church within a saloon town filled with drunken brawls and prostitution provided an oasis of culture for the new and corrupt town. Money raised from these social events provided a large portion of the funds for the construction of the cathedral. Construction of the cathedral commenced on September 7, 1899 using stone from the Table Rock quarry. The building of the Cathedral took three years and was dedicated on May 25, 1902, by Bishop James Funsten and Reverend Charles Deuel.
Since its completion, the Cathedral has been the source of change and progression in the Treasure Valley. Bishop Funsten, six months after the dedication of the cathedral, opened St. Luke’s Hospital with only six beds. Later, the St. Michael’s Women Auxiliary would work to create and buy supplies for the hospital by hours of service and an annual Ball held by the church. The Cathedral’s organist at the same time was also the man who pioneered Boise’s Music Week Celebration. St. Michael’s Episcopal Cathedral has played a huge role in some of the most influential events and places in the Treasure Valley.
The architectural significance of the Cathedral is also very great. It is truly one of a kind here in the Treasure Valley. It features all of the elements found in a Gothic Revival Piece. In its simplicity, Gothic Revival was a style that tried to “revive” the old European Gothic style that started around 1140 A.D. and had died down by 1520 A.D. It experienced a revival in England in 1740s. This revival was carried over and influenced the building of St. Michael’s Cathedral at the start of the 20th century. In its infancy, Boise was a rough city with little government and even when it had grown to become a city, the presence of a gothic style cathedral was definitely a diverse idea. There are many different things that define a gothic (or gothic revival) building. The first thing that we noticed when looking at the building was the medium used. Gothic buildings are all stone based, and the same was true for St. Michael’s Cathedral. Limestone was a common material used in France and England, but St. Michael’s Cathedral followed a type of “Brick Gothic” that was more common in Northern Germany, The Netherlands, and Scandinavia. Another style based viewpoint we saw on the outside was the vertical structure of the bell tower, and the steeple that extended out of the tower. It shows and demonstrates the vertical orientation found in Gothic style buildings. This goes back to the purpose behind many cathedrals, which was to honor God. They did this by making their buildings very vertically oriented. As you enter the building you see more of the vertical orientation. The beautiful stained glass windows all stand high into the room and come to a sharp point. Another point of gothic architecture are the pointed arches. All over inside and out, there are pointed arches: Doorways, outside entrances and the stained glass windows are some of the ways this was accented. The floor plans for gothic cathedrals are also very interesting. Its in a plan called the Cruciform style. If you look at the floor plan from the blueprints you can the very distinct form of the symbol of Christianity, the cross. One style of standard architecture that doesn’t exist at St. Michael’s Cathedral is the flying buttresses found at many gothic cathedrals. Perhaps the reason it wasn’t?t used, was the impracticality of it. Buttresses were created to allow buildings to be built taller. St. Michael’s Cathedral is very vertical, but not very tall. Many Arches were set at corners for building purposes, but there were no Flying buttresses. St. Michael’s Cathedral has had a colorful and interesting history, and a unique style of architecture for the whole of the northwest. It was the first of its kind in the northwest and continues to awe any audience that sees it. It was one of the first signs of civilized life in Boise, and continues to have that tradition of change and service that will continue for many years to come. It stands as a beacon to the masses, even today, as a piece of great architecture that is also still serving the community.
The Cathedral’s stained glass windows recently underwent an extensive renovation and rehabilitation project. Plexiglass protection had been placed outside on the windows, originally covering and protecting the windows from the elements, but more recently clouding the brilliant color of the windows and blocking the sunlight from pouring through them into the worship space. For their efforts, St. Michael’s was awarded an Orchid Award by Preservation Idaho in 2022. Please see Julia Boal’s fine pamphlet on the project at https://www.idahoarchitectureproject.org/st-michaels-episcopal-cathedral-hidden-art-treasure/