Cathedral Renovation in St. Petersburg, Florida

Bishop Robert Lynch of Saint Petersburg, FL recently announced on his blog that the Cathedral of Saint Jude will be closed for renovations through May 2013.

The current cathedral was dedicated in the summer of 1963, between the first and second sessions of the Second Vatican Council. St. Jude’s served as a regular parish church until the establishment of the Diocese of St. Petersburg in 1968 elevated it to the status of diocesan cathedral.

As it stood, the cathedral was a rather interesting mid-century structure marked by both architectural and liturgical transition. The building was of a traditional cruciform shape, surmounted by a dome, yet clearly demonstrating stylized mid-century idioms. The sanctuary featured a freestanding altar and predella underneath a large, architectural baldachin surrounded by pews on three sides.

Bishop Lynch explains that the current renovation of the cathedral stems largely from inadequate mechanical systems, accessibility issues, and liturgical considerations.

The renovation will bring greater emphasis to the “liturgical centers” of the altar, ambo, cathedra, font, and tabernacle. The renewed interior is certainly designed in the spirit of the original structure, yet it strengthens the celebration of the liturgy through the creation of new, prominent liturgical furnishings of dignified materials.

As church architecture becomes increasingly polarized, the Saint Petersburg’s cathedral renovation represents a pleasing middle ground. The renewed space is light and uplifting, yet providing a sense of dignity and solemnity: a fitting home for cathedral liturgies.

Current cathedral photos & artistic renderings of the renovation here.

Cathedral site with renovation background and updates here.

Chase Becker is a Liturgical Studies student at Saint John’s School of Theology•Seminary in Collegeville, MN.


  1. I like the planned renovations. The focus is clearly on the altar, tabernacle, ambo, without clutter. I trust they are moving the organ to the back (where it should be anyways) and not throwing it away to be replaced by a digital electronic marvel. Anytime I see a rendition for a renovations my question is: “Will I be able to worship in this new space.” And the answer is: “Yes” By the way, I consider myself a high church Catholic.

  2. The current interior is not good. I guess seeing the rendition shown as a “middle ground” of possible renovations depends on where you stand.

    The rendering looks almost exactly like the food court at my nearest mall. I understand that some people say these things in a hyperbolic manner, but on this one I am being completely serious. Our mall has the same dimensions oval space with tables and chairs strewn inside, at the juncture of several naves, same general shape that is a ghost of a traditional form, same beige scheme, abstract columns. Eery. The blank, but pleasant, corporate look.

    Well, at least they didn’t inflict total Bauhaus or brutalism.

    1. The renovation looks trendy to me too and in ten to twenty years it will look outdated from the artistic point of view; it needs more of a classic look, especially the revised dome over the altar.
      I personally think it is a waste of money and resources to renovate a building like this in such an extensive way–build a new one and build it classically, like the Diocese of Raleigh is doing.

    2. This reminds me of something you’d see in our biggest collection of malls on the east coast in King of Prussia, PA. Once again another church has been designed by an engineering firm accustomed to designing a Walmart, or does a lot of evangelical store-front churches.

      Like Christ Cathedral in Orange county, it has all the aura of a Disneyland/Disney World exhibit.

  3. It helps somewhat to look at the floor plan. The choir is either in the back of the nave, or on the second floor balcony; it would be helpful for someone to clarify. Actually the website might be improved by adding an artist rendition of this area.

    The inside dots mark the separation between the nave ceiling and the ambulatory ceiling. The upstairs balcony will be where the organ pipes and speakers will be located.

    I like the floor plan. It seems like there are many entrances/exits close to the sanctuary area, so that people can get in and out rather easily.

    The narthex has become an area for the use of the laity (rest rooms, wedding rooms, choir area) somewhat similar to the sacristy for clergy rather than an area whereby one gains entrance or exits the church.

    Without seeing the choir area, it is rather difficult to estimate how everything would work out musically.

    Yes, the decorate aspect leaves much to be desired; it appears more mall like than many contemporary churches.

    Seems like the new one will admit much more light from the outside. The old one seems very dark and dreary.

  4. Since we’re seeing only one computer-generated rendering of what the renovated interior will look like, I think it’s premature to make lengthy and conclusive pronouncements about the renovation project.
    I’m not sure why – especially in terms of floor plan and traffic flow – it’s a bad thing for the renovated cathedral to have a resemblance to a mall food court. Architects spend a good deal of time learning about how human beings gather and how their “traffic” patterns work; why not apply that to a sacred space as well?
    From the rendering, it looks like it will be a bit barren, for my tastes. I work Sunday by Sunday in one of the iconoclastic barns that were very popular in Chicago’s western suburbs during one stretch of time. (“The PEOPLE are the color! The PEOPLE are the images!” No, they’re the people.) So I’d like to see a bit more in the way of tapestries or even some sort of geometric design/decoration on the vault. It doesn’t have to be a faux-Renaissance Assumption, but something to help that vault bring the vault of heaven to our minds, perhaps.

  5. As awful as the current corona is, the proposed cantilevered aperture for the dome is not better, just differently awful. It’s an unconvincing stretch.

    Also, it seems the former louvered approach to lighting-from-behind from the sides (an understandable choice in a nearly tropical light zone:×333.jpg) will be lost by converting the former “aisles” of the nave into function space. So the nave will get narrower and therefore feel deeper, it would seem. And lighting would appear to be much compromised (the new clerestory seems skimpy). It seems that the vault, such as it is, will be lower, too. (That’s generally a bad idea except in spaces suffering from the vice of gigantism.)

    And then there is the issue of acoustics. Will the renovations improve the natural acoustic quality of the building (that is, without accounting for amplification)? That’s about 50% of the grade in my book, with visuals the other half.

  6. Alan, I appreciate your observation about the ridiculousness of the claims that “the people are the decorations.” I have wondered about the wisdom of that as well.

    But you don’t see why it is a BAD thing for the Cathedral to resemble a food court of a mall? REALLY? Wow.

    Food courts don’t point my thoughts towards heaven. They point my thoughts toward free samples and Japanese food.

    1. I was speaking of how an understanding of the ways humans gather and interact are at play in food court design. Food courts point your thoughts to free samples and Japanese food when those things are there; the architecture helps that. When a baptistery, altar, ambo, paschal candle are there, our thoughts are turned toward the sacraments and the divine among us in similar fashion.
      As has been pointed out elsewhere, ecclesial structures utilizing and learning from civic structures is a common thread to the history of the places we worship.

  7. I’m in the skeptic’s court on this one. The original church is hardly inspiring, and typical post WWII pragmatism.

    Acoustics are a big deal, but it can be difficult to retrofit
    a poor building for good sound. Too often pastors and bishops rely on throwing $100K or much less at an electronic reinforcement solution and consider their hands clean.

    I prefer fonts at church entrances.

    Lack of clutter is good.

    Malls actually make excellent use of space for gathering people and for the purpose they serve. I’m sure that some 4th century Christians objected to Roman legal buildings as settings for the Eucharist. Some things never change, eh?

  8. I was morbidly hoping as soon as I made that post that someone would come out and propose that a Roman basilica and a shopping mall are aesthetically equivalent. That’s Americanism for you!

    I do agree that malls generally fit their purpose well; I’m sure some liturgists would be offended by the fact that mall architects rarely inflict spaceships on shoppers, and that they usually employ an understandable architectural language.

    The link escapes me but some malls are now being converted into residential communities; the narrow, human-scaled ‘streets’ of a mall are a welcome change to the typical American hypertrophic causeway which you find even in a small town suburb.

  9. I like the design overall. The liturgical furnishings are very similar to that of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston, I believe. I’m also glad that they didn’t just throw the altar rail away but found a use for it in marking off the area around the tabernacle.

  10. They didn’t have much to work with (agreed that its post-WWII pragmatic) and what they came up with so far doesn’t look terribly inspired either. Oh well.

    I think we should go back to having proper baptistries. I do not think the font belongs up front nor in the back in the aisle. Its awkward and in the way either way. My own parish has the font off in a corner in the back, to be put in a proper bapistry once we get done with the rest of the renovation.

    As to appropriating secular ideas into sacred spaces, its one thing if the secular building is inspiring and up to the task of being “baptized” into Church use. The Roman basilica fit the bill admirably. Its a hall for the king, making it a hall for the King of Kings is wholly appropriate. A mall is wholly practical and uninspired. There is really not much to borrow from that sort of design for sacred purposes. Even in the merely practical field of people flow, we’ve been in the business for 2,000 years, I think we’ve got that handled just fine.

    1. The problem with the use of the Roman Basilica model is that it was a hall for a human king; when it got appropriated for Christian use that put the presider in the role/place of the king or emperor. When the King of kings came into the world, a palace or basilica was not the chosen venue. God seemed to think a humbler and earthier place was fitting.

      1. That is what He decided for Himself in a specific situation. Just like the Church did not slavishly model the Mass/Divine Liturgy rites on the Last Supper, neither does She use a stable or cave (whatever it actually was) as a model for her temples.

  11. The designers have clearly not taken into account the five considerations necessary regarding the placement of the choir: liturgical, visual, spatial, musical and acoustical. They have considered the last two but not the first three.

    On Jack’s diagram, the choir is at figure 4, one assumes upstairs in a gallery. Figure 5, for example, might well be a better location.

    1. The new choir area is located in the rear of the church on its central axis. The former choir loft will be used as an organ chamber only, with the choir being directly below and in front of it. The large platform sits approx. 30″ above the church floor with 4 rows of seated risers above that – so the choir will exist in a plane above the congregation but below the organ. The excellent acoustic is being retained… there will be no carpet in the renovated space and the plaster vault (original height) will remain for the most part unaltered. I’m happy to answer any question you might have – I appreciate your comments. – Chris Berke, Dir of Music, St. Jude Cathedral

  12. I was a parishoner at St. Jude from 1972 to 1982, then trying to visit the cathedral on an annual basis.
    Many here have stated that the cathedral was a throwback to the mid century or a typical post WWII pragmatism etc. I believe many are judging from the pics which is deceiving.
    As an actual parishoner I can tell you nothing could be further from the truth. The cathedral interior was bright, beautiful and breathtaking; the pipe organ heavenly. The sanctuary kept the circular marble altar rail, pleasing to conservatives, the central altar was a magnificent 10 x 4 foot carved altar. Behind the altar up several steps was the platform for the presiders chair which was centrally located with two side chairs made from the same wood as the altar. Several steps behind the presiders chairs was the altar of repose w/ a large tabernacle, bronze w/ precious jewels inset. When opened revealed two areas within for reposition.

    All in all it flowed very well, large altar, centrally placed presiders chair but a central tabernacle behind so the line of sight was central.
    I used St. Jude as the yardstick to measure how other churches measured up for implementing Vatican II reforms ie beautiful altar w/ central presiders chair but keeping some minor traditions as the centrally placed tabernacle (from pre VII) and the altar rail.
    I’m sad to see it changed.
    St. Jude is more beautiful than the LA cathedral or the “space egg” church in Oakland.
    Oh well change is the one constant in life.

  13. As a parishioner, choir member and employee of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, I can attest to the need to remodel the building. I noticed a question concerning the choir loft. It is downtstairs on an elevated platform. The upstairs loft had to be abandoned due to bulding code and engineering restrictions. Many times we had combined choirs , for large events, that caused us to swelter in the old loft. We also had to limit the number of choir members in order to fit.
    The larger open areas will also allow for overflow crowds and better access. The air conditioning, lighting, and sound system also needed attention.
    I too love the older buildings but, I must admit most of this change will be good.

  14. I appreciate Paul’s concerns about the choir, but it does seem that carpet is not in the cards, which is excellent, and if the choir IS in the gallery, my experience is that the choral sound coming from behind the assembly is much better than singing at the assembly. After all, if a choir is not singing “mixed” it is usually better to have the better voices behind the less good ones to reinforce their sound and give them a good vocal model.

    The current sanctuary design, frankly, is a disaster. I know it doesn’t help that it is very dark, but still. The new one is an improvement.

    I’m not quite sure why this is being held up as a model renovation, though: with such a low ceiling, it seems unlikely that someone could do a faux-Italianate style (that seems very popular in renovations today). I think the new plan is successful, although I rather wish the sanctuary were a bit smaller. I imagine it has so much space behind the altar due to concerns of concelebration at diocesan functions, etc., but it has somewhat more space than I would like.

    Finally, where is the cathedra in the new plan? Forgive my poor eyesight.

  15. The cross-shaped cathedral shape is symbolic, if you are flying over it in an airplane–it is rather less effective if you are sitting behind a supporting column. So much harder to participate, if you haven’t got a good eyeline on the action. There is something that is important about closeness to the proceedings and openness of space that can easily be diminished by long, narrow naves that can tend to distance us from active participation..

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