Treasures of  a  forgotten diocese

  • Written by Janet Cleaveland
  • Published in NW Stories
Photo: Greg Wahl-Stephens Photo: Greg Wahl-Stephens

The proto-cathedral’s antique sacramentals connect us to our spiritual roots

Often when we think about going on a pilgrimage, faraway places come to mind — Lourdes, Fatima and Santiago de Compostela, for example. These journeys involve long hours of travel, meticulous planning and the financial means to make them happen.

But a journey of faith need not be so demanding. Across U.S. dioceses, including the Archdiocese of Seattle, the idea of a local pilgrimage is taking root. It might be a daytrip to a far corner of the archdiocese or a quick visit to a Catholic cemetery.

As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said in 2010, “To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself, where his grace has shone with particular splendor and produced rich fruits of conversion and holiness among those who believe.”

The Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater in Vancouver invites pilgrims to do just that. A Nov. 8 celebration marking the church’s dedication also gives us a chance to view sacramental objects that connect the faithful to the earliest days of the Catholic Church in the Northwest. Among the items are a tabernacle from the first St. James Church, a silver chalice and a reliquary that was a gift from the Vatican.

Here is a look at some of the holy objects visitors can see in November or next summer as the proto-cathedral honors its history and invites the faithful to deeper union with Jesus Christ.  

travel case and window
Left: The priest carried the Eucharist to a sick or dying person in this leather kit. He also had room for holy water and oils, used in the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. Photo: Greg Wahl-Stephens

Right: St. James Church was built outside Fort Vancouver in 1846, and this window was placed above the doors. The first St. James burned in 1889, probably the work of an arsonist, but someone saved eight paintings and this window from destruction. Photo: Rachel Bauer

chalice and pall
Left: Before coming to Fort Vancouver, Father Francis Norbert Blanchet served in County Soulanges, Quebec, where cholera was raging in 1827. He tended to all the sick. In gratitude, non-Catholics gave him two silver chalices. It is thought that he gave one to his brother, Augustin Magloire Alexandre Blanchet, who became the first bishop of the Diocese of Nesqually in 1850. The name changed to the Diocese of Seattle in 1907. Photo: Rachel Bauer

Right: The pall, a small square of stiffened linen, is used to cover the chalice and keep impurities from falling into it. Mother Joseph and the Sisters of Charity were responsible for altar linens and vestments. It is thought that this pall was embroidered by one of the sisters. Photo: Greg Wahl-Stephens


monstrance and ewer and basin

Left: Monstrance. Photo: Rachel Bauer

Right: Ewer and basin are used when the priest washes his hands at the close of the Offertory. This part of the Mass is called the Lavabo, Latin for “I shall wash,” in an older form of the Mass. Photo: Greg Wahl-Stephens

This cope (at right) was found among treasures in a locked closet of the proto-cathedral. The volunteers who were sorting and archiving the items think that it was worn by one of the bishops of Nesqually while presiding at a liturgy such as Benediction or confirmation, but not a Mass. Photo: Greg Wahl-Stephens

Come and See

The next chance to see treasures of the Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater and the Diocese of Nesqually will be Nov. 8. All are invited.

What: Mass celebrating the 130th anniversary of the proto-cathedral with a reception; exhibition of artifacts, including a wax figure of the Baby Jesus created by Mother Joseph and paintings brought back from Mexico during one of Bishop A.M.A. Blanchet’s trips to obtain money for his fledgling Diocese of Nesqually; tour of the church; and talk by Paul Deming, a parishioner and teacher.

When: 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 8            

Where: 218 W. 12th St., Vancouver     

Looking ahead: Next July, the proto-cathedral’s Historical Society will offer another local pilgrimage with the antique sacramentals on display.

Listen to an interview about the Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater's historical collection

Trouble listening? Head to our SoundCloud stream directly.

Northwest Catholic - October 2015