Scrambling for something else to do in Vancouver, WA (other than Fort Vancouver), and with my love for religious architecture, I thought I’d visit the Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater. Let’s take a look inside, shall we?First of all, what the heck is a “Proto-Cathedral?” Well, it’s simply a fancy name for a “first” cathedral. From 1885-1907, Vancouver’s St. James was the finest church in the Northwest. When another, more impressive cathedral was built (also named St. James, but located in the quickly growing city of Seattle) it assumed the role of cathedral for the Archdiocese of Seattle, simultaneously ending this church’s role as main cathedral and ending the Archdiocese of Nesqually.
Relegated to being a “normal” parish for the next hundred and six years, in 2013 the Archdiocese of Seattle aimed to recognize the lesser St. James’ role in Northwest Catholic history by giving it the new designation “Proto-Cathedral.”
The birthplace of Catholicism in the Northwest, St. James was originally dedicated in 1885. 123 years later, in 2008, the cathedral underwent a massive renovation. Old carpets were ripped out, broken flooring was repaired, beautiful architectural features were uncovered, pews and the altar (wood carved from Belgium) were all refurbished.
Most notably, during this time a team of artists painted the ceiling a pale blue and covered it with gold stars – to remind the congregation of heaven.
Often overlooked as a tourism stop, I find churches to usually be the oldest and most well-kept buildings in many cities — which is why I usually try to seek out the best examples. The Proto-Cathedral of St. James is a jewel in Vancouver, worth seeking out and seeing with your own eyes.
So glad you enjoyed the visit!
If you’re ever back in town and if anyone would like to learn more about the church’s history, the parish Historical Society offers a free tour to the public on the last Saturday of every month at 11 am. You can even climb all the way to the top of the choir loft.