New lighting makes St. James Cathedral a beacon in Seattle skyline

  • Written by Joanne Walby
  • Published in Local
The new lights at St. James Cathedral extend into the towers in a design created by Linet Henry and installed by Nelson Electric. The lights are part of the cathedral’s $1 million Place of Light, Place of Welcome project. Photo: Courtesy St. James Cathedral The new lights at St. James Cathedral extend into the towers in a design created by Linet Henry and installed by Nelson Electric. The lights are part of the cathedral’s $1 million Place of Light, Place of Welcome project. Photo: Courtesy St. James Cathedral

SEATTLE – On the first evening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the exterior of St. James Cathedral was bathed in new lighting.

“What better day, what better night, to tell the world that St. James Cathedral is a place of mercy, a place where what Pope Francis calls a ‘revolution of tenderness’ is an ongoing, everyday thing,” Father Michael G. Ryan, pastor of St. James, said in an email.

The lighting was officially unveiled Dec. 8 and the cathedral will be illuminated from sunset to midnight each day, according to the St. James website. The lights make St. James more visible in the Seattle skyline, where it loomed over downtown a century ago, but over the years became dwarfed by surrounding high-rise development.

“This project was more than about just showing off a beautiful building,” Father Ryan said in an email. “It’s really more a statement of faith. I want people to think of St. James Cathedral as a beacon of light in this community: a place where people come to pray, to celebrate, to weep, to rejoice, to serve,” he wrote.

St. James old lightingSt. James Cathedral’s old lighting didn’t make it stand out in the surrounding high-rise development. Photo: Courtesy St. James Cathedral

Besides the exterior lighting designed locally by Linet Henry, the $1 million Place of Light, Place of Welcome project includes improvements to welcome all visitors: new signs around the campus and automatic door openers for the cathedral’s accessible entrances.

Larger signs at the corner of Marion Street and Terry Avenue and at the west entrance to St. James “will notify visitors and passersby that this is the Catholic cathedral of the Archdiocese of Seattle,” said Maria Laughlin, the parish’s stewardship and development director.

The cathedral’s new exterior LED lighting includes state-of-the-art cabling in the 160-foot-tall cathedral towers that allows digital control of the lighting settings.

When the cabling project cost $175,000 more than expected, parishioners were asked in August to dig into their pockets again. “Donors were extraordinarily generous and we were able to cover the cost overruns,” Laughlin said.

In the coming months, the parish will install a new wheelchair lift, lighted handrails, up lighting for the building’s facade and illumination for the bronze doors. Over the next two to three years, the cathedral’s interior lighting will be converted to energy-efficient LED technology.