Friday, November 18, 2005

A Cathedral Renovation... done right!

[Original Story: Pasadena Star News]

A Restoration of Faith
Cathedral to reopen after project

By Juliet Williams Associated Press

SACRAMENTO - The 19th-century bishop who lobbied for a Roman Catholic cathedral to be built in downtown Sacramento deliberately chose a site just one block from the state Capitol.

Bishop Patrick Manogue, a one-time gold miner, wanted the statehouse and the church, with its 217-foot bell tower, to stand as reminders of the two pillars of society - church and state. Manogue also hoped the cathedral's location would act as a moral check on political abuse.

The state capital has been without one of those pillars for more than two years, after the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament was closed for major repairs and a seismic retrofit. On Sunday, the 116-year-old cathedral reopens after a $34 million restoration project that includes elaborate murals and refurbished glasswork and statues.

"The cathedral is a symbol in modern life of the sacred, a symbol of the transcendent," said its rector, the Rev. James Murphy. "It's a reminder to people that there's more to life than money and stress."

The restoration began as a straightforward plan to repair a leaky roof and shore up the foundation.

Architects discovered that many aspects of the original design were never finished because the diocese ran out of money. Piecemeal modifications over the years left the cathedral with a mishmash of styles and no cohesive theme. Its distinctive dome was hidden behind a false ceiling installed during the 1930s.

A design team from the New York architectural firm Beyer Blinder Belle used a lone newspaper clipping from 1889, the year construction of the cathedral was completed, and some partial drawings from the 1930s to recreate the dome and install 16 panel murals that tell the story of the Eucharist.

At the time of its construction, the cathedral was one of the growing city's premier buildings and was described in great detail in accounts of the time.

"It is one of the most significant historic structures in Sacramento," said Jim Shepherd, the architectural firm's project manager. "It really serves as a spiritual center for downtown Sacramento, so I think it's wonderful that it will be sort of `reinvented' for another generation."

The restoration of the cathedral's classic European architecture bucks the trend for California cathedrals in recent years. The $189 million Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles, completed in 2002, and a new cathedral under construction in Oakland, were designed using modern architectural styles.

Such an approach was never considered for the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Murphy said. The New York firm was selected in part because of its experience restoring cathedrals, as well as renovations of Grand Central Station and Ellis Island in New York.

"The word `modernization' is anathema to them," Murphy said. "They want to preserve the original intent of the building."

Manogue, the diocesan founder, came to Northern California during the Gold Rush and used the money from his prospecting to pay for a trip to a seminary in Paris, where he studied to become a priest.

He was named the first bishop in Sacramento in 1886 and began lobbying church officials to move the diocese's seat from the Sierra foothill town of Grass Valley to the state capital and then to build its mother church there.

"He wanted a symbol of the sacred in the heart of the capital," Murphy said.

Today, the diocese includes 99 churches and more than 500,000 parishioners across a 20-county region that spreads north of Sacramento to the Oregon border and east to the Nevada state line.

Among the art works gracing the restored cathedral is an ornate mural honoring the Saints of the Americas. One of the saints depicted is Toribio Romo, the patron saint of migrant workers and a Mexican priest who was martyred in the 1920s. About 1,000 of his distant relatives now live in the Sacramento area and helped secure bone fragments from Romo's tomb that will be installed in the cathedral altar during Sunday's service as a relic.

Jesus Romo, a relative, will help carry the relic during the ceremony for the cathedral's blessing. He said Hispanics are excited about being part of the remade Cathedral.

"It will draw more people to the Cathedral. It will make us feel a little more at home in Sacramento," said Romo, who grew up hearing stories about the priest's devotion to his work and parishioners.