Cathedral Church of St. Paul

Cathedral Church of St. Paul

4800 Woodward at Warren in Detroit's Cultural Center

This large Gothic church is home to the oldest Episcopalian parish in Michigan—founded in 1824—and is the Cathedral for the Episcopal diocese of Michigan. Following Thomas Jefferson's suggestions, many of the nation's most impressive public buildings of the 19th century borrowed heavily from the classical architecture of Greece and Rome. However, a very different tradition began to influence US architecture in the middle of the 19th century as designers and architects began to borrow from the Gothic tradition. Ralph Adams Cram designed this structure. Apparently, he and a number of other architects who were trained at MIT, Columbia or at the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris felt that it was important to incorporate original Gothic designs from the medieval period. Churches such as Fort Street Presbyterian, designed by Albert Jordan in the 1850s, were Gothic in style, but were more nearly Victorian Gothic rather than the original Gothic style. Cram was a devote medievalist who saw great value in using the Gothic design of the 14th and 15th centuries for churches built in the 20th. To him, it illustrated the continuity of Christianity. For St. Paul's Cathedral, he designed this English Gothic style church with a tall, narrow gabled façade, including an impressive recessed entrance above which you find a classical English Gothic rose window. Cram designed a large tower for this church at the crossing of the wings. You can clearly see the base of this tower that has yet to be built. The entire perspective of this beautiful church will be substantially altered should someone donate monies to complete the design for this structure.

You might compare this Cathedral of St. Paul, to St. Florian's—the spectacular and, in my opinion, even more inspiring Gothic church that Cram designed for the Polish Catholic community in Hamtramck. Detroit—more than any other American city—represents the accomplishments, the challenges and the conflict of capitalist democracies of the 20th century. It is impressive to think that an architect designed for this city two impressive churches that might have graced the landscape in the late medieval era.

The stained glass work is extensive and impressive. There are 36 windows in 12 bays, illustrating the first day of creation as described in Genesis. They illustrate the progression from vast darkness to the light-filled world that Christians and Jews believe God created. There are several dozen other stained glass windows in this church. Many of them are based upon the themes and style of stained glass used in French and English Gothic church of the 13th and 14th century. There are 12 Spanish windows on both sides of the sanctuary—windows that were imported from a Spanish cathedral.

Architect: Ralph Adams Cram
Architectural Style: English Gothic
Stained glass windows: Many artists including Donna Swanson Taylor, the J and R. Lamb Company from New Jersey; Heaton, Butler and Bayne of London; Charles J. Connick of Boston and the Franz Mayer Company of Munich.
Michigan Register of Historic Sites: P25038, Listed February 27, 1980
National Register of Historic Sties: Listed: August 3, 1992.
Use in 2014: Episcopal Cathedral for the Michigan Diocese
Photo: Ren Farley, November 200
Description updated: February, 2014

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