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The History of Saint Mark's

Last Updated: April 2010

The history of Saint Mark’s Cathedral must begin with Trinity Church, Seattle’s oldest Episcopal Parish, founded in 1865. Trinity has given birth to many other Episcopal churches including Saint Mark’s, which was founded in 1889 to meet the needs of a growing population and to offer worship “less formal” than Trinity.

The first Saint Mark’s was built in 1890 at 5th Avenue and Stewart Street downtown. By 1896, the parish had outgrown this small church and in 1897 moved into a bigger and grander one at Seneca and Broadway on First Hill.

After World War One, there was growing support in the Diocese of Olympia to build a “Victory Cathedral”, and land was purchased in 1923 on Tenth Avenue East. In 1926, Saint Mark’s was designated to be the Cathedral of this Diocese, and the Rector, John McLauchlan, became the first Dean. A magnificent building was envisioned, plans were drawn up, pledges made, and in 1928 construction began.

The Cathedral as originally envisioned in 1931

The Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the depression that followed resulted in a considerable decrease in funds. The building that we see today, this “Holy Box”, represents what could be done with the money that was available. Saint Mark’s Cathedral was dedicated on Saturday, April 25, 1931 in a service that took place in Thomsen Chapel, the only space finished in the style meant for the whole Cathedral building.

It soon became clear that the Parish could not maintain its mortgage payments, and in 1941 the St. Louis bank foreclosed. The “For Sale” sign on the front lawn made national news! The remnant of the Parish worshipped in St. Barnabas Church nearby on Federal Avenue E (now a private residence).

So the Church was closed… but not for long. In 1943, the U.S. Army leased the building to use as an anti-aircraft gun training center. Evidence of this “occupation” can be seen as a series of murals on the walls in the area of the crypt used as the Canteen for the soldiers.

In 1944, Bishop Huston went to St. Louis to negotiate with the bank, and Saint Mark’s opened for worship later that year. Between 1944 and 1947 much fundraising took place and on Palm Sunday, 1947 the mortgage was burned in front of the Altar. (The St. Louis bank forgave the last $5,000 of the debt.)

The Church as it appears today

In 1952, the Rev. John Leffler arrived to be Dean, bringing new prominence to Saint Mark’s. His influence is still felt in the continuing traditions of good preaching, excellence in liturgy and involvement in justice and human rights issues.

In 1958, Cathedral House was constructed at the west end of the building. This much-needed addition contains Bloedel Hall, the kitchen, Library, Parish Office, classrooms and other meeting rooms.

In 1961, Peter Hallock, who came to Saint Mark’s in 1951 to be organist/choirmaster, went organ shopping! The old weather-beaten 1897 organ was being held together by faith and baling wire, and the Vestry agreed that a new one was a “must”. Peter selected an instrument to be built by the Flentrop Co. of Holland. D. A Flentrop visited Seattle and proposed to build, for Saint Mark’s, the largest instrument he had yet designed. In the summer of 1964 demolition of the East Wall began and the Narthex/Loft was constructed. The organ was dedicated in September 1965 with E. Power Biggs playing the inaugural recital.

In 1969, the Chapel of the Resurrection and Columbarium was built under the Nave connecting with Cathedral House.

In 1997, the West Wall was remodeled and new sacristies and vesting rooms were built. What had been a dark and constricted altar area (sanctuary) became the light and open space we now enjoy. Olson Sundberg Architects was the design firm, and northwest artist Ed Carpenter was chosen to do the glass and steel screen. This forms the backdrop (reredos) for the Altar Table, the focus of our worship. In the center of the screen under the rose window are two great doors, which can be opened or closed for different occasions or seasons of the church year. Behind the screen is McCaw Chapel, an intimate space for private prayer, where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved.

In 2003, Saint Mark’s acquired the St. Nicholas School Building next door for future expansion of the office, classroom, meeting and worship spaces. That year also saw the gift of a fine new organ for Thomsen Chapel built by Paul Fritts of Tacoma, WA.

The interior of Saint Mark's Nave today

We hope you enjoy your time at Saint Mark’s Cathedral and will visit us again.

Note: The Episcopal Church is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion of Churches, tied by faith and practice to the Church of England (the Archbishop of Canterbury being the spiritual leader).

The Anglican Church came to this continent with the English colonists of the 17th and 18th centuries. After the Revolutionary War, allegiance to the British Crown was impossible, and in 1785 the first General Convention established the Episcopal Church in the United States. Samuel Seabury was elected the first Bishop, thereby replacing the oversight of the Bishop of London. The General Convention approved the first American “Book of Common Prayer” in 1789. (The General Convention is the governing body of the Episcopal Church, consisting of the House of Bishops and the elected House of Deputies. Both houses must agree on legislation that comes before the convention for consideration.)

Saint Mark's Cathedral
1245 Tenth Avenue East
Seattle, WA 98102