St. Paul's Episcopal Church 1430 J St. (Corner of 15th and J)
Sacramento, Ca 95814
P.O Box 160914
Sacramento, CA 95816
Phone: (916) 446-2620
History, Music, Beauty, Resilience, Love & Light
Established before California entered into the Union as a free state in 1850 St. Paul's Episcopal Church is Sacramento's first church.
First called Grace Church, the church was renamed St. Paul's, then became Christ Church Cathedral, and then, once again, St. Paul's.
The congregation initially met in a blacksmith's shop in August 1849. Rev. Flavel Mines, the Vicar of Trinity Church in San Francisco, the first Episcopal Church west of St. Louis, conducted services.
The classic Gothic cruciform building, with elements of Norman and Romanesque design, that stands at 15th and J streets is the congregation's third "permanent”home.
The first building, constructed at 8th and I streets in 1856, was replaced in 1870 after the city's streets were raised above the flood level. The second building had to be replaced at the turn of the century. A 1901 newspaper article reports that“old St. Paul's was condemned none too soon: Bulging walls and rotten supports tell of the structure's doom.”During the interim, services were held at First Methodist Church on J Street.
Ground was broken for the present structure in 1903 and the congregation began worshipping inside five years later. The beloved downtown landmark building is a unique example of modern construction techniques and classic styling. The construction's steel I-beam frame technique was developed in the late 19th-century. Such skeletal framing led to the proliferation of 20th-century skyscrapers.
Renowned California architect Willis Polk gifted the building's plans to St. Paul's rector Rev. C. L. Miele who in turn gifted the plans to the parish. Polk worked as the California representative of the Chicago-based architectural firm D. H. Burnham and Co.
More than a century later, the exterior remains essentially unchanged.
Inside the building are two large colorful stained glass windows as you face the altar. The windows are the work of John Mallon of Pacific Art Glass Works of San Francisco. The Sacramento Union newspaper on April 24, 1889 noted,“What gives additional interest to the two windows in question… is the fact that they are the first fine church windows put up in this city, and that both were made in California and by California artists, and prove conclusively the ability of home stained-glass manufacturers and glass-painters to produce works of a very high order.”
Jane Stanford, a member of St. Paul's, donated the window on the right in memory of her child, Leland, Jr. who died of typhoid at age 15. The 21 panels hauntingly depict life and death.
In one of the window's panels, a morning angel carries the baby Leland to the family's home which was located across Capitol Park not far from the church and is now a state park. The mansion is ablaze with lights.
Opposite, another panel depicts a grieving angel cutting a rose not yet blooming. At the angel's feet sits an urn draped with crepe. A sickle leans nearby.
Between the birth and death panels, the young boy's guardian angel assists his entry into Paradise where souls of blessed children wait to greet him. The likeness of Leland, Jr. illustrates Mallon's skill as a portrait painter.
All three angels bear the same woman's face, that of Jane Stanford: the morning angel with the visage of a young woman, the grieving angel aged, and the guardian angel with the countenance of a woman in her prime.
Facing the altar, across from the Stanford window is another stained glass artwork of equal brilliance. The Haymond or "St. Cecilia" window was given to the church by Col. Creed Haymond, a business associate of Governor Stanford, as a memorial to his wife, Cornelia Alice Haymond who died in childbirth at age 32. St. Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians, honors Cornelia Alice Haymond's service as an organist at St. Paul's.
In the central panel, Saint Cecilia touches fingers to organ keys, gaze lifted. Golden light beaming down from clouds bathes the musician's face. Flanking panels depict musical instruments.
Above the St. Paul's altar, Christ's Ascension is shown in a large stained glass window created by Willemina Ogterop, who was the principal designer of the Cummings Stained Glass Studio in San Francisco. The initial artwork was given in memory of Katherine Wettig in August 1949 for the parish's one hundredth anniversary and completed in1962 after a successful fundraising campaign.
A“teaching window," various panels depict aspects of Christ's ministry and also reflect the contributions of many worshippers.
The upper left panel depicts Christian Education (in memory of John Bonte 1890-1947).
The center left panel depicts the Trinity (given by Eleanor Phoebe Sills).
The bottom left panel depicts Preaching of the Word (in honor of Robert Mitchell and Jeanne Wylie Mitchell).
The upper right panel depicts Healing Ministries (in memory of James Henry Parkinson, MD).
The center right panel is the symbol of St. Paul and is inscribed with the motto "Spiritus Gladius."
The lower right panel depicts Prayer (in honor of Michael O'Hair and Michael O'Hair, Jr.).
The smaller windows on the west side of the nave—Faith, Hope and Charity—were commissioned by the vestry. The smaller memorial windows on the east side of the nave date from the same period.
The window resulted in part from a need to replace the original, donated by the Crocker family and destroyed in a 1915 fire which began in the pipe organ.
The current organ, a Tracker, was built by Johnson & Sons of Westfield, Massachusetts in 1877. The organ, one of the oldest on the West coast, was brought to Sacramento from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts in 1918 and rebuilt in 1963 and 1996.
In 1965 fire struck again, this time destroying the parish hall. At that time, the pews and many other furnishings had been removed from the nave so it could be used as a multipurpose space. As for many urban churches during the decades of the fifties and sixties, attendance declined at St. Paul's.
In 1967, the parish was reduced to Mission status and title to the property was transferred to the diocese. In 1968, the church was renamed "St. Paul's Center for Urban Studies and Ministry.”
Although numbers of worshipers decreased during this period, community programs flourished. Episcopal Community Services, the social service arm of the diocese, developed from programs started at St. Paul’s Center and continues today.
And the music never stopped.
Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead band played in the building on October 5, 1968, when St. Paul's opened the space to the musicians whose venue at Memorial Auditorium, located across the street, turned out to be double booked.
In 1988, following significant growth in membership and financial strength, and relocation of the Diocesan (ECS) programs, St. Paul's was restored to Parish status.
On any given day, anyone could pass through the red wooden doors to worship, listen, share and learn bringing with them their special gifts of curiosity and presence.
St. Paul's Episcopal Church downtown is both an historical landmark in California's capitol city and a community of vibrant people who believe in sharing space, creating beauty, and seeking and finding—together— the face of a loving God.