St. Mary's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

Our Church


A Church Full of History and Beauty

From its dedication in 1926, St. Mary’s Cathedral has stood as the gracious center of the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon. The Cathedral belongs to the 400,000 Catholics of the archdiocese and serves as a place of worship and celebration for those who come here. The Cathedral is also a parish church, and as such it is home to its parishioners and a welcoming place for all visitors.       


Origins of the Cathedral 

In 1851 a small group of Catholics built a modest church near the present intersection of NW Fifth and NW Couch Streets. At the time, the area was a forested tract some distance from the center of town. In 1854, the parishioners moved their church to a more convenient location at the present SW Third and SW Stark Streets, and made additions to accommodate the growing congregation. This church became the Cathedral in 1862, when Archbishop Norbert Blanchet established residence in Portland. On August 15, 1885, a completely new Cathedral was dedicated at the SW Third Street location, but following the destructive flood of 1894, a pro cathedral and school were built at the present NW 15th  and NW Davis Streets. In 1925, Archbishop Alexander Christie authorized the construction of a new Cathedral at NW 18th and NW Couch Streets. With the support of Catholics around the archdiocese, the Cathedral opened on February 14, 1926. The first service was held on February 19, 1926. With the 150th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon, Archbishop William J. Levada determined that one of the principal activities of the anniversary would be the restoration and renewal of the Cathedral. The work included liturgical and artistic modifications as well as seismic strengthening, and electrical, heating, and lighting updating. Again, Catholics from around the archdiocese supported the project, and the rededication of the newly restored Cathedral was celebrated on February 14, 1996.


Art Throughout the Cathedral

The Cathedral was designed in 1925 by the firm of Jacobberger and Smith and contracted by Daniel F. Campbell. It is in the Romanesque style with some Byzantine features and covers an area of 12,000 square feet. The stained glass windows in the transept date from one of the earlier cathedrals. Statues of the Sacred Heart and the Blessed Mother were brought in by the Benedictine monks of Mount Angel. The Stations of the Cross and the Povey Brothers dome above the altar date from 1926. Other artwork, including the paintings in the apse, the lights, the stained glass windows, the etched windows in the vestibule, and the icons were either installed at the time of the restoration or in the years since then.


Icon on Display - Map of the Holy City of Jerusalem (Click image to zoom)



Generously donated to the Classical Iconography Institute from the private collection of Dr. Thomas and Darlene Dunham 

This icon genre called “Proskynetaria” is a revered souvenir from the Holy Land produced in the early 18th century for pilgrims.  It was painted with egg tempera and natural earth pigments on a wood panel specifically for the Russian faithful as it is inscribed  in Church Slavonic. It is both hagiographic and geographic, meaning it tells the stories of saints and sacred events from both Old  and New Testaments on the sites of their geographic location in and around Jerusalem. The meaning of some events are lost to  antiquity; however, scholars in Jerusalem are analyzing scenes in this icon that are not in white boxes to try decode their meaning.  

“Shine, shine Jerusalem, your light will come, and the day and night (they) are not closed.” Isaiah, Chapter 60, verses 1, 11  

This text is created from fragments of verses in Isaiah, beautifully written in Slavonic Calligraphy around the icon’s frame. 

Overall Layout 

The City of Jerusalem is depicted inside the zig zag walls.  A cross section of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is shown in the center.  Major events in Jesus’ ministry are depicted from left to right at the top of the icon.  Scenes dedicated to Jesus, Mary and Joseph are in the icon’s right vertical register.  The left side of the icon depicts Old Testament landmarks through representative saints and events. Directly under the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the gold arches, are sacred Paschal events. 

Top Left Corner to The Right Corner 

Dormition of the Virgin - The swaddled infant Christ holds in His hands is the soul of Mary, signifying her ascent to Heaven.  Peter Severs Malchus’ Ear - at the time of Christ’s betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter’s impulse was to the defend the Lord and he drew his sword. This tiny scene is distilled to the essence of Peter, the sword and Malchus. The Betrayal of Christ - Shown are Christ, Judas and a soldier when Judas turns Christ over to the authorities. 

Agony in the Garden - Christ is consoled by an angel as Peter, John and James are asleep instead of watching guard.  Caves represent ignorance and sin in iconography, which tells us that the apostles were not doing what Christ asked.  

The Resurrection of Christ - In the center of the icon is Christ ascended and resurrected above Holy Jerusalem. Entry into Jerusalem - On Palm Sunday, the Lord rides a donkey (an animal representing peace) into Jerusalem as children lay down their cloaks before Him. Baptism of Christ - John the Baptist baptizes Christ in the Jordan as an angel holds the Lord’s garment. Notice that the tree in the background bows to Christ. Temptation of Christ - in the 40 days that Christ fasted in the desert, he was tempted by Satan on the Mount of Temptation. 

The Annunciation - Archangel Gabriel announces to Mary that God has chosen her to be the Mother of Jesus. She is  shown in a position of humilty, crossing her arms over her chest. 

The Transfiguration - Apostles James, John and Peter tumble down Mt. Tabor, blinded by the brilliant light of the transfigured Lord as He discusses His fate in the heavens with Elijah and Moses. Church of the Holy Sepulcher - Center 

Saints Constantine and Helena - Roman Emperor Constantine the Great was the first ruler to stop Christian persecutions  with the Edict of Milan in 330, after his conversion to Christianity. His mother, Helena, was said to have found the True  Cross and endowed building of churches on holy sites in Jerusalem, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. They are  both honored with the chapel of Constantine and Helena above the Holy Sepulcher. 

The Binding of Isaac - Reminds us of the story of Abraham and marks the location of the Chapel of Abraham the Patriarch. Christ Carries the Cross - We know this is Christ because of the shape of the cross inside His halo, called a “cruciform halo.” The Resurrection of Christ - shows Christ ascending from His sepulcher. 

The Crucifixion - Mary and St. John the Beloved stand at the foot of the cross. 

Finding the True Cross - This is the chapel of the True Cross, believed to have been found by St. Helena. Jesus Ordains James - the First Bishop of Jerusalem. The Cathedral of St. James is right outside the Holy Sepulcher. The Lamentation of Christ - this scene provided a clue to the authorship of this icon. Often, the individuals present at an  important event, (here, the Lamentation of Christ) indicate for whom the art was created. In this case, the individuals  venerating the body of Christ are Russian Orthodox priests. We know this from the color and style of their vestments. In  many other Proskynetaria, the individuals in attendance are dressed in black, which would be Greek Orthodox vestments. 

The Doors to the Crusaders’ Staircases - these are the steps that take pilgrims to the stone of unction. 

Right Side Top to Bottom 

Lot Filling a Jar From the Jordan to Water the Tree of Salvation - Lot was instructed to fill a jar of water from the Jordan  to water a small tree growing at Adam's grave. The tree would become a grace for all mankind. 

Raising Lazarus - This scene shows Christ with two apostles as witnesses, raising Lazarus who has been dead for four  days. The position of this scene corresponds to the place where Lazarus lived. 

Presentation of Mary to the Temple - Saints Joachim and Anna present Mary to the temple when she turned three, keeping  their commitment to God in gratitude for bearing a child late in life. 

The Multiplication of the Loaves - this event documents another time Christ raises His eyes to Heaven to bless the bread  and multiply the five loaves to feed thousands. 

The Tiberian Sea - Christ reveals Himself to Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James and John who are fishing on the Sea of Tiberius after His Resurrection. Only Christ and the sea are shown. 

Hospitality of Abraham - an early representation of the Holy Trinity, this scene tells the story of Abraham and Sarah who  were visited by three strangers (angels), to whom they offered hospitality. The strangers turned out to be the Father, Son  and Holy Spirit. It reminds us to be hospitable to strangers because you never know when God may be at your door. 

The Samaritan Woman at the Well - this scene shows us Christ’s ministry to gentiles. 

Presentation of Jesus to the Temple - Joseph and Mary presented Christ to the Temple as part of Judaic tradition. Simeon’s  prophesy revealing that he had seen the Lord and could now die, marks the site of the St. Simeon Monastery. 

St. Demetrios Monastery - St. Demetrios is always depicted on horseback; the difference between him and St. George is  that St. Demetrios lances the devil, while St. George lances the dragon. This marks the site of the St. Demetrios Monastery. 

St. Sabbas, Mar Sabba Monastery - a Cappadocian hermit and leading figure in early monasticism, St. Sabbas established the  order of the Byzantine rite. The Lavra of Mar Sabba is one of the oldest continuously operating monasteries in the world.  

St. Nicholas - St. Nicholas is identified by his bishop’s robes, white curly beard, high forehead and bald head ringed with  white curls. His icon marks the location of his namesake monastery. 

Joseph is Warned by the Angel- the sleeping St. Joseph is forewarned in a dream to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt for safety. 

Flight into Egypt- next to the warning by the angel is the scene where Joseph leads Mary and Jesus to Egypt, escaping  Herod’s killing of the innocents.  

Nativity of Christ- the three kings adore Our Savior, with Mary and Joseph present, marking the location of the Church  of the Nativity of Christ. In icons, the infant Christ is shown swaddled in linen and lying in a stone manger to foreshadow  the burial shroud in the stone tomb. 

Flight of Elizabeth & The Massacre of the Innocents - two scenes are shown in this box. On the left is St. Elizabeth in a  cave holding John the Baptist, saved from Herod’s soldiers by the spider web covering the cave’s entrance, reminiscent of  David hiding in a cave from Saul, also saved by an undisturbed spider web covering the cave’s entrance. The scene to the  right represents the Massacre of the Innocents and marks the sites of both Rachael’s tomb and St. John the Baptist’s home. 

Left Side Top to Bottom 

Martyrdom of St. Stephen - first deacon of the church, St. Stephen was also her first martyr who died by stoning. This  scene marks the site of the St. Stephen’s Gate into Jerusalem.  

Monastery of St. Basil - St. Basil was an early church father and influential theologian who supported the development of  the Nicene Creed and opposed heresies of the early Christian church.  

Martyrdom of Simon the Zealot - site of where Simon the Zealot, one of the apostles, was martyred by being sawn in half.  

Monastery of the Theodoroi - plural for Theodore, this monastery is dedicated to Saints Theodore Tyro and Theodore  Stratelates, warrior saints for their defense of the early church.  

St. George’s Monastery - St. George is depicted in art riding a white horse, often lancing a dragon. His namesake monastery  began as a lavra with 6 monks in the 5th century on the road connecting Jerusalem to Jericho, the site of Christ’s baptism. 

St. Onouphrios Monastery - Onouphrios, a 3rd/4th century hermit monk, traveled from Egypt to live and pray in one of the  caves near Jerusalem. He was famed for wearing only a loincloth of leaves, an extravagant beard that reached his feet and for  being fed by birds and angels on Sundays. His namesake monastery is believed to be the site where Judas Iscariot hung himself. 

Monastery of the Holy Archangels - St. Michael the Archangel is listed in the inscription and shown to represent the  monastery of Holy Archangels, believed to be constructed on the site where God destroyed the Assyrian army. 

Lot Watering the Tree of Salvation - Remember seeing Lot in the upper right corner filling a jar from the Jordan? Here he is  watering the Tree of Salvation, which becomes the “True Cross”. His presence in two places gives pilgrims directional advice. 

Bottom Left Corner to the Right Corner 

Jaffa - the port of Jaffa marks a pilgrim’s entry into Jerusalem. This symbol appears in the lower left corner of every icon of  this Pilgrim Map genre, to identify it as a map of the Holy City of Jerusalem. 

Solomon Builds the Temple & Lot’s Tree - Solomon is shown giving orders to build the temple, specifying the wood to be  used. In the next scene, Lot’s Tree has been harvested, but rather than be used to build the temple, it was said to have become  the True Cross, hence “The Tree of Salvation.” The image marks the Dome of the Rock, the site of Solomon’s Temple. 

Golden Inset - Events of Easter  

The Last Supper - Christ is shown with four apostles establishing the foundation of Holy Eucharist at the last supper. Christ Washes the Apostles’ Feet - Christ is shown washing the apostles’ feet as an act of sacrifical love. Denial of Peter - In fulfillment of the scripture, Peter denies Christ as he warms himself by the fire. Descent of the Holy Spirit - the fire of the Holy Spirit shown above comes down over Mary and the apostles at Pentecost. 

Schlesser, for Classical Iconography Institute, February 2024