Dedicated to Christ the King
Our church is our community. First and foremost, our church is the people and this entire website is about the great works and personalities of our faith community. But our church is also the historic building where we gather together to worship, to celebrate, and to mourn.
The first St. Joseph Church was a wood frame structure built in 1907 but the parish community quickly outgrew it and the demand for a larger church become evident. Planning for the new church began in 1918 and the donations of many families helped finance this great undertaking. Massive and angular in design, the architecture of the current church reflects both the romanesque and early gothic style but it is a decidedly art deco structure.
Dedicated on October 26, 1930 to Christ the King, the designers and architects of our art deco church faced well the challenge of building during the Great Depression. Originally, the new church was to have been an early gothic version of New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral. Due to the economic downturn the granite and marble plan was scrapped in favor of a novel new technology, reinforced concrete. The revised plan cut the original estimate from one million dollars down to some four hundred fifty thousand dollars. Used in Europe by architects such as Werner Moser and Auguste Perret and in the United States by Frank Lloyd Wright, reinforced concrete had been widely used in the ancient world but its use was only rediscovered in the early twentieth century.
St. Joseph’s was designated a Seattle Landmark in 1980 and its architect, Abraham H. Albertson (1872-1964) contributed much to the development of the City of Seattle, including the Seattle Tower (Northern Life Tower) at the corner of Third Avenue and University, the Montlake Bridge, the Downtown YMCA, and the University’s Women Club on Sixth Avenue.
As a modern marvel that paired new technologies and traditional styles, the new St. Joseph Church provided the parish with the worship and gathering space it needed and the parish thrived throughout the 1930s and 1940s. It was not unusual for there to be waiting lines for the five Sunday Masses. Life in the neighborhood - Catholic Hill - revolved around the church and the school and for decades the community continued to grow and to strengthen.
Two hundred fifty feet in length and one hundred ten feet wide, St. Joseph Church rises ten stories high on 19th Avenue and five stories high on 18th Avenue. The great bell tower is two hundred twenty-five feet high and for many years was the highest geodetic point in Seattle. The massiveness of the church is best appreciated from 19th Avenue, where one can see how the walls of the multi-level structure are modulated by flat buttresses, which help support the weight of its great height. “The apse mounts up from the level of the lower street while the entrance and tower are approached from the higher level” (“St. Joseph’s Church, Seattle, Wash.: An Expression of the Modern Trend,” The Architect and Engineer. Feb 1931, v. 104, no. 2, p. 21). No attempt was made at disguising the horizontal marks left by the wooden, form boards of the concrete pour and, indeed, quality wood was employed with this intention.
The interior of the church features the enormous, glass mosaic altarpiece of Christ the King. Of note is also the innovative, surface painted pillars and archways that flank the side aisles. The floor slopes imperceptibly downwards from the narthex towards the sanctuary, aiding the acoustical plan of the worship space, which provides relatively even volume and tonal qualities throughout - making St. Joseph an excellent venue for concert performances.
Touring the Church
Before entering the church, pause to notice the stone work above the doors. All who enter are greeted with the traditional reminder Domus Dei, the House of God. Above this, rise the names and emblems of the twelve apostles of the Risen Lord, all martyrs, save St. John, in terra cotta relief.
St. Thomas, who tradition teaches built a church in India with his own hands, is represented by the right angle of a carpenter, as well as the spear by which he died. St. Bartholomew’s grisly emblem is three knives, as he was said to have been flayed alive, crucified, and beheaded at some point during his apostolic journeys to Armenia and India. St. Matthew’s symbol is the three money bags as he was not only a tax collector but also kept the community purse.
Known as the Zealot, St. Simon is remembered as having taken the Lord’s discipleship to heart and so is represented with a fish, himself having become a fisher of persons. St. James the Less is shown with three stones, his having been stoned and then clubbed to death. St. James the Greater is depicted with three shells, the symbol of his apostolic journeys across the Mediterranean to the Iberian Peninsula. St. John is symbolized by a chalice and a serpent; tradition has it that someone attempted to poison his wine but when he blessed the wine, the poison left it, in the form of a serpent.
St. Matthias, who replaced Judas, is represented by the ax as tradition remembers that he was beheaded during his journeys to Ethiopia. Keys serve as a powerful emblem for St. Peter while Andrew is represented by the sideways cross saltire of his crucifixion in Greece. Phillip’s emblem is a cross with two loaves of bread, reminiscent of his involvement in the feeding of the multitude, as recorded in the Gospel of John.
The great sheathed copper doors of the church are adorned with ornamental fleur-de-lis, a symbol of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as well as stars that form the shape of crosses.
Bells & Tower
The great tower of St. Joseph Church rises 225 feet into the air and demonstrates the skyscraper idiom that the architect employed previously in the Seattle Tower (Northern Life Tower). The tower’s vertical piers rise to a three tiered, setback crown surmounted by a uniquely styled cross. It contains six great bells, the largest of which, George (named in honor of former school president George Hofbauer), weighs in at more than thirteen hundred pounds.
Walking through the heavy, copper front doors of St. Joseph, one enters the narthex or vestibule. Here you will find the calming but dominant statue of St. Joseph, who carries both the infant Jesus and the white lily, symbol of holy virtue and obedience to God. In the southwest corner of the vestibule you will also find a bronze statue of Mary.
The long nave of the church orients toward the east (from where we get the word orientation - literally, 'to the east'), traditionally pointing in the direction of the rising sun as a grand, architectural metaphor of our hope in the Resurrection of Christ. As such, the eyes are drawn upwards to the great rose window, brilliantly illuminated each sunny morning. This window serves as the basis for the stylized logo of the parish and its quadrants, representing the four evangelists, figure prominently in our Vision Statement and our division of ministries into Liturgy & Worship, Parish Life, Faith Formation, and Faith Justice.
The central rose window is flanked by two smaller rose windows. On the right side, above the mosaic of St. Joseph, shines the image of Christ the King with St. Ignatius on his left and a pope on his right. The rose window in the north transept, above the mosaic of Mary shows the crowning of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the Holy Trinity.
As you walk down the main aisle you will notice the tall, vertical stained-glass, lancet windows that run the length of the nave and bathe the church with a blue light. The clerestory windows to your right, on the south side of the church depict significant events and themes remembered in the liturgical life of the Church, including the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary. From the rear of the church forward they are as follows: The Coronation of Mary, The Assumption, The Descent of the Holy Ghost, The Ascension, The Resurrection, The Crucifixion, The Last Supper, and The Good Shepherd. On the north side of the nave the stained-glass images depict events in the life of Jesus, including the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, from the altar back to the main entrance, as follows: The Annunciation, The Visitation, The Nativity, The Presentation in the Temple, The Flight into Egypt, The Finding in the Temple, The Holy Family at Nazareth, and Peter Receiving the Keys.
Stations of the Cross
Directly underneath these large, stained-glass windows, running the length of the nave, and inset into the pillar archways are the traditional Stations of the Cross. The stations feature painted and fired metallic glass sections, glowing under the warm light of original lamps. Made by Ravenna Mosaics Company of New York and shipped to Seattle, each station was made possible by a memorial gift.
- Jesus is condemned to death (In Memory of John Hoeschen & John Bock)
- Jesus carries his cross (In Memory of Catherine & John Harnan)
- Jesus falls the first time (In Memory of Jarlath Jones)
- Jesus meets his mother (In Memory of the Parents of Mr. and Mrs. William E. Finn)
- Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross (In Memory of Jacob & Clara Ewald)
- Veronica wipes the face of Jesus (In Memory of Sarah T. Wilwerding)
- Jesus falls the second time (In Memory of the Parents of Denis McLaughlin)
- Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem (In Memory of William & Bridgid Russell)
- Jesus falls the third time (In Memory of James & Mary Gaffney)
- Jesus is stripped of his garments (The Boys of St. Joseph School 1930)
- Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross (In Memory of Our Parents, Mr. and Mrs. George W. Rourke)
- Jesus dies on the cross (The Students of Holy Names Academy 1930)
- Jesus is taken down from the cross (In Memory of John F. McGovern 1850 - 1920)
- Jesus is laid in the tomb (In Memory of James Bennett)
Votive Prayer Areas
Five inset areas run the length of the outer wall of the nave and these feature a collection of stained-glass lancet windows dedicated to and depicting a number of saints. On the south wall the first set of windows illustrate St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, St. Pius X, and St. Catherine Tekawitha (the last suggested by Charles LaCugna and one of the last of the windows installed in the church). The next set are Jesuits saints Aloysius, Stanislaus, and John Berchmans. The third set on the right side combine to spells out Mary’s famous Magnificat, “The Lord Magnifies My Soul”. There are two sets of similar aisle windows on the north side of the nave. The first set, from the west, are Franciscan saints, donated by the Tertiaries of the parish - St. Anthony, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Claire. The next set shows founders of religious orders, including St. Dominic, St. John Bosco, and St. Benedict.
As you make your way forward and down the nave towards the sanctuary you will notice the painted scroll work in an art deco style that decorates the many pillars, the main crossing piers, and arches of the church. The distinctive green, purple, and luminous silver patterns reveal themselves to be grapevines with both clusters of fruit and great leaves and tendrils of growth. Stylized birds with marvelous tails perch in opposing pairs throughout the colorful pattern.
This same grapevine pattern is picked up in the iron work of the old baptistery and the old altar rail, some of which still remains after the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council in front of the Mary Altar in the north transept, and in the ambo, from which the Word of God is proclaimed at each Mass.
Having seen the great, altar screen mosaic from a distance, its complexity is revealed upon closer examination. Designed by Rudolph Scheffler, German-American artist (1884-1973), The church is dedicated to Christ the King, Cristo Rey, and Christ himself occupies the central panel, flanked by Jesuit saints Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier. To either side of the mosaic and surface painted on the wall in a 1957 addition are six of the seven sacraments. From the top right down and clockwise these are as follows: Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, Matrimony, Reconciliation, Confirmation, and Baptism. The Tabernacle itself stands in the center as the grand symbol of the Eucharist and repository of the Blessed Sacrament; its doors are fabulously decorated with the image of the Crucified One and the words Ego sum panis virus - I am the bread of life. The Tabernacle stands on an altar of beautiful, red humidian marble.
The great cupola over the altar was opened up to let in more light during the renovation of 2003. The increased light allows us to see more easily the detailed architectural embellishments. Around the ring of the cupola repeats the symbols IHS, the Sacred Heart, and the Book, representing scripture. Paying attention to the ceiling itself you will discover thirteen horizontal, reinforced concrete support beams running the length of the nave, with six in each of the transepts. Each is painted with a distinctive shining star, facing downwards, and a great variety of symbols facing both east and west. Along the nave supports the embellishments include the crowned, composite letters M and R, signifyingMaria Regina, Mary Queen of the Church. Other symbols you will find include the Star of David, the Pascal Lamb, thelabarum - also known as the chi rho of Constantine, the globus cruciger - the orb of Christ the King, the chevron, the lily, the pierced heart of Mary, and the fleur-de-lis.
Light from two rows of eighteen stained-glass, lancet windows bathe the sanctuary in light from both the north and the south. Looking to the south, just under the great cupola, you will see, from left to right, St. Peter Canisius, St. Anselm, St. Gregory the Great, St. Ambrose, Moses, St. Augustine, St. Jerome, and St. Isidore. Looking to the north, again left to right, you will see Pope Leo the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil the Great, Elias the Prophet, St. Gregory the Theologian, St. Athanasius, St. Bonaventure, and St. Alphonsus Liguori.
From a position within the raised area of the sanctuary, you will also notice two additional rose windows that are not usually visible to the congregation from the nave of the church. Above the south transept shines the image of St. Paul, dressed in green, characteristic with his great sword. Likewise, in the north transept, St. Peter is represented in blue with the crossed keys, symbol of the papal authority and responsibility for mercy.
The south transept, where the music ministers and choir gather at each Mass, is dominated by the great stained-glass wall of the Jesuit North American Martyrs. Donated by the Bangasser family, the eight martyrs surround St. Ignatius at the center. From left to right, the martyrs represented are St. Noel Chabanel, St. Gabriel Lalemant, St. Rene Goupil, St. Isaac Jogues, St. John de Brebeuf, St. John Lalande, St. Anthony Daniel, and St. Charles Garnier. For much of the year, the sanctuary is lit by these blue windows.
The Limpias Crucifix
In the opposite, north transept you will find the large, original crucifix imported from Spain. An exact reproduction of the Miraculous Crucifix of Limpias, from the Iglesia san Pedro in Santander, Spain. The life-size corpus hangs upon a massive twelve foot oak cross. It is reported that the original crucifix in Spain has come to life on many occasions: the eyes of Christ opening and closing, blood dripping down from the wounds of the crown of thorns, and even Christ seeming to loosen himself from the cross. Since 1914, a great many people have made similar reports and at times the entire congregation has witnessed the statue moving. We have not had similar reports here at St. Joseph!
The old baptistery in the north transept houses a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and features the wonderful hand wrought iron doors with the same grapevine motif that is found in the surface painting on the church’s columns and archways. Colorful stained-glass, lancet windows brighten the prayer space and invite quiet contemplation. From left to right, the windows depict the following: Christ the Judge, Christ the Priest, Christ Appears to Margaret Mary, Christ the Healer, and Christ the Teacher. The baptistry remains In Memory of the Parents of Pat McCoy and In Memory of Francis P. Rogers, while the stained-glass windows were a gift of Mrs. Joseph Carroll.
Looking back towards the entrance of the church the massive organ fills the choir loft and obscures the interior view of the St. Cecilia rose window. A gift of parishioner George Rouke, the window was shipped from Germany in a vat of molasses to keep it safe; the huge window was assembled on site and today is in need of restoration. The window features St. Cecilia, patron of music, in the center and surrounded by various musical instruments, especially those used down through the church history in sacred music. Today, the window is best viewed at night from outside the church.
Our organ was built by the master organ-builder Henry Willis & Sons, Ltd. The Willis' family firm was founded in 1845 and still exists today. It remains a mystery just when and for where St. Joseph’s organ was originally built, but speculation has it at about 1871, and possibly for an exhibition. It was installed in Christ Church, in the north London Borough of Haringey in 1892, with some modifications to make it fit the building. Father Willis, an Episcopal priest, build some of the finest organs in the world and they grace such spaces as London's St. Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Cathedral, Edinburgh Cathedral, Blenheim Palace, and St. Patrick's Cathedral in Drogheda, Ireland.
Read more here.