I’ve always been fascinated by architecture. As a youngster, I wanted to be an architect. I could certainly relate to Seinfeld’s George Costanza and his erroneous claim, when asked what he did for a living, that he was an architect named Art VanDelay. The power, the grandeur, and the awe that can be expressed through designing and building something magnificent cannot be underscored. Fortunately, Portland, Oregon has more than its fair share of unique and interesting architecture, including St. Mary’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, which serves as the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon and is a house of worship for Roman Catholics in Western Oregon.
St. Mary’s Cathedral, built in the Romanesque Revival and Byzantine architectural styles, has the classic look of medieval European Cathedrals. Built in 1925 (by Jacobberger & Smith) and residing in the Historic Alphabet District in Northwest Portland on NW 18th and Couch, the Cathedral is composed of red brick and stretches out handsomely—providing a visual spectacle to pedestrians and commuters alike. St. Mary’s Cathedral, with its tall brick spires and sprawling design is a source of pride for Portlanders; regardless of their religious affiliations.
In 1925, while battling a mortal illness, Archbishop Alexander Christie sanctioned the building of a new cathedral at the corner of NW 18th and Couch streets. Perhaps as a final tribute to the man, local parishioners and clergy from all over the Archdiocese took up the challenge and less than a year later, on Saint Valentine’s Day in 1926, St. Mary’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception opened and held its first services five days later.
St. Mary’s Cathedral has a distinct, European flair and the building itself is both religious and secular in its grandeur. A combination of Twentieth Century Romanesque and Byzantine, it boasts “[A] red tiled gable roof, cast-stone Corinthian columns, and a square tower with copper cornices.” The apse is made of Italian Marble and the doors are composed of white oak with cast bronze on the exterior. A coat of arms on the sign leading parishioners in is that of the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon. The three bells of the tower were cast towards the end of the 1880’s and were a part of the original cathedral, located at Third and Stark. The Stations of the Cross are original to the Cathedral.
As with many religious structures, St. Mary’s Cathedral boasts an exquisite art collection. Benedictine Monks, who later would found the abbey in Mt. Angel an hour to the south, brought over marble statues of the Sacred Heart and the Virgin Mary (carved in Switzerland) to the earlier 3rd and Stark Street cathedral. They were installed in the new location and reside now on the north walls of both transepts. Glass etchings on the Narthex doors hold the symbols of the Seven Sacraments. The Archbishop’s Chair and the transept windows were brought from the two earlier cathedrals in the 1870’s.
St. Mary’s Cathedral serves both the religious community of Portland area but also serves the community at large with its charitable events, open door policy, solace and astounding beauty. This historical location is a source of pride and joy for Portland residents and, with its full restoration in 1996, will continue to serve this great community for years to come. St. Mary’s Cathderal is located at 110 NW 17th Avenue Portland, Oregon 97209 on the corner of 18th and Couch. St. Mary’s also home to one of the top notch private schools in the area.