By: Julia Boal
The windows of St. Michael’s Cathedral are a local piece of art that demonstrates the beauty and thoughtfulness of those that came before us. They represent what most Boise community members already know; there is something special around every corner.
St. Michael’s Cathedral was fortunate enough to begin a renovation project for the windows. Prior to this renovation period, the windows had been covered in plastic as a way to protect them from the elements. This made the windows appear dingy, lacking the luster that stained glass is usually known for.
Each of the St. Michael’s windows have their own individual story. The sets of windows are entirely unique, each representing a new era for the church. These windows showcased the best of that time period, the best of the Reverends, and the best of the parishioners. These were projects that came out of the desire to show all that the cathedral has to offer.
I set out with the Idaho Architecture Project to learn about the history behind the windows. This history would then be collected and showcased to the public in this very article. The Nativity set and the Rose window are the pieces that caught my eye from the beginning of this project.
Each set of windows was part of a story not only about the beautification of the church, but about the people of Boise coming together for a bigger purpose. Though these sets were part of different time periods, the sentiments were still the same. They were meant to serve as a memorial to commemorate those who impacted the Boise community.
Post the St. Michael's renovation project
During the Christmas service of December 25, 1918, it was announced by Bishop Touret that St. Michael’s Cathedral was blessed with a new set of stained-glass windows. Mrs. A.H. Boomer returned to Boise from San Jose to see that a set of windows depicting the Nativity scene be placed in St. Michael’s as a memorial to her late children and husband, Alexander Boomer. The Boomers were one of the first families to settle in the Utah, Idaho, Montana territories. Alexander H. Boomer lived from 1839-1916 and would be buried along with his children in the Pioneer Cemetery that is now located off Warm Springs Ave. Boomer made a name for himself with his stagecoach line, Boomer and Northwestern Stage Co. He was a stage line operator in whose coaches Bishop Tuttle, Rev. Mr. Miller, and other priests often rode as they ministered to their far-flung flock within the territory. This was quintessential to the church as they tried to expand their outreach, prior to the territories being divided into individual states. These windows were dedicated on April 20, 1919 as part of the Easter Sunday Service. The windows were a product of Tiffany Glass Co. which would one day become the modern Tiffany and Co. that we’re familiar with today, costing a little over $2500. Located in the Eastern Transept the three windows lay out the nativity scene: the center window is a Virgin Mary with an infant Christ in her lap, the Wise Men in the next window and the shepherds visited by an angel in the last window.
Tiffany created a new glass that would be known as favrile glass. This was an iridescent and freely shaped material that was sometimes combined with bronze like alloys and other metals to create the opalescent coloring seen in the Nativity set. This piece was best described by a quote from Mrs. Boomer in the April 1919 edition of the Idaho Statesman stating, “To the glory of God and in loving memory of my husband and children. I also wish to say, I’d hope it is a worthy setting in the cathedral and will be a never-ending source of pleasant thoughts and inspirations to the worshippers assembled there.”1 The windows forever memorialized her family and captured the joy of the birth of Christ. A thing of beauty for the church seen by generations.
Prior to the St. Michael's renovation project
With the Second World War coming to an end, a return of hundreds of men who had left the Boise community-a good percentage of parishioners from St. Michael’s Cathedral-coming home. This brought about a “revamping” of St. Michael’s as a way to prepare for the influx of people following the war. Under Reverend Rhea, St. Michael’s raised over $75,000 from rummage sales, ice cream socials, and Sunday tithings during World War II. Half of these funds were contributed to war bonds with the other half meant to beautify the church. Part of this beautification came from the memorial tower and the Connick Rose Window. The rose window was dedicated on May 20, 1945. This window would depict St. Michael and the archangels as the main piece of focus. The window is located in the choir loft. It is 9 ft in circumference and purposely uses red, white and blue colors to pay tribute to those that were affected by World War II. The tower memorialized the fallen soldiers during WWII and the window would be a testimony of their strength. Each of these special memorials play a role in remembering the members of a community both fallen and returned after such a tragic war. The window was designed by Charles J. Connick, a prominent artist in Boston. Connick would be best known for his work in Gothic Revival study, one of these pieces being that of the rose window at St. Michaels. The architect chosen to design the window structure was Harold C. Whitehouse of Spokane. He was a major architect within the Pacific Northwest building structures for University of Idaho and other prominent names. He and Connick corresponded with each other and St. Michael’s Cathedral to ensure that the beauty of the window was showcased for all to see. Boise native James Baxter would be the one to present the church with the steel frame the stained glass would be fitted in. His steel company, Baxter Foundry and Machine Works, is still in business today for your steel purchases. The last major players within this production were parishioners L.A. and Ralph York who were the building fund managers, meaning they were responsible for all thing’s money related within this project. These individuals came together to ensure the revival of the church was a smooth and efficient process. The beautification of the church was a welcomed change after the horrors witnessed during and following WWII. In a quote from Rev. Rhea regarding the projects of the church he tells the Idaho Statesman, “Glory to God in the highest and on the earth, Peace among men of good will.”2 This project allowed the community to remember the good of humanity.
Rose Window post St. Michael’s restoration
The windows produced by Tiffany and Connick were different in many aspects. They were designed by different men who resided in different places and who partook in different artistic styles, but the sentiment was all the same. These were pieces that were meant to serve as memorials. Whether it be a memorial for a certain individual or for soldiers that never made it home, these windows are symbols of the strength within the Boise community.