Want to hold on to the holiday season a little longer this year? The Downtown Boise Christmas Church Walk hosted by the Les Bois Chapter of the American Guild of Organists is just the thing.
The free, self-guided tour features some of the most historically significant and beautiful churches in Downtown Boise. It offers something for everyone, whether you’re a lover of music, architecture, holiday decor, local history, community or spiritual spaces.
The tour takes place from 3 to 5:30 p.m on Monday, concluding with a Christmas music presentation from 5:30 to 6 p.m. at St. John’s Cathedral. Ray Morvant, a member of the guild, will provide organ accompaniment.
Walkers can pick up brochures and begin their afternoon at any of the five churches.
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Gary Anderson, senior minister at Capitol City Christian Church, a longtime participant in the annual event, said the walk “gives us a chance to see more people from the community face-to-face, and for them to see us.”
The walk, he added, is a family-centered event — something families, their out-of-town guests and friends can all enjoy together.
“And our people have a ball being part of it,” Anderson said.
Anderson likes to point out Capitol City’s stained glass windows, in particular the church’s three largest windows. One shows Jesus as a shepherd with his flock; another, a young girl with her Bible, and the last shows Jesus in prayer in the garden at Gethsemane.
“Stained glass is a permanent visual aid that highlights our core values,” said Anderson, adding that many modern churches are virtually windowless, making them better environments for multimedia programs. Capitol City and other historic churches are just the opposite. The light shines in. Note: The windows at Capitol City can even be opened.
“In the summer, it’s more like we’re having church in the park,” said Anderson.
Miniature primer: Start your walk in-the-know
Capitol City Christian Church at 615 N. 9th St. (1911)
▪ This Romanesque-style church (massive, thick-walled, rounded arches) is notable for its unusual corner entrance, double front gables and hexagonal dome.
▪ The church’s interior space, which is also oriented toward the corner, includes a balcony story.
▪ Capitol City Christian is an example of an “Akron” or auditorium plan church. The American design became popular in the years following the Civil War. It allowed parts of the worship space to be closed off from others thanks to large moveable partitions so different religious classes and church activities could take place simultaneously.
▪ Capitol City Christian is the only intact Akron design in Boise. The former Immanuel Methodist Episcopal Church, now the home of the Treasure Valley Institute for Children’s Arts at 1406 W. Eastman St. in Boise’s North End, was also designed in the Akron style (note the similar gables and corner entrance).
First Presbyterian Church at 950 W. State St. (various construction dates)
▪ First Presbyterian’s original site was where the Idanha Hotel stands now. The congregation moved north to 9th and State streets in the early 1890s.
▪ The congregation built its current mid-century-style sanctuary on the 9th and State property in the mid-1950s. Lindsay Hall replaced the 1890s-era sanctuary on the east side of the block in the 1960s. First Presbyterian is, today, a complex of multiple stand-alone buildings. A building project in the 1990s connected the buildings into the labyrinth-like structure that stands today.
▪ The modern sanctuary includes a smaller, more intimate side chapel on the southwest corner of the complex. Both spaces feature notable, bold-colored, strong-lined stained glass windows created by the Rambusch Company in 1962. The company was founded in New York City in 1898 and has created windows for church buildings across the United States.
▪ The sanctuary, modern as it is, includes some original church furnishings brought to Boise by covered wagon in 1878.
Immanuel Lutheran, 707 W. Fort St. (various construction dates)
▪ The church began life as the Swedish Lutheran Church, with services in Swedish. The congregation began holding services in English in 1918.
▪ Charles Hummel of Tourtellotte and Hummel, the celebrated Boise firm, designed the church, as well as nearby St. John’s (also on the tour). Hummel was the grandfather of Boise architect Charles Hummel, who died this fall.
▪ The church was expanded in the 1950s, creating a compound with a curious mix of architectural styles. The congregation named the original structure the Augustana Chapel. The Augustana Chapel follows European gothic style (seen in the pointed shape of its windows and off-center steeple). Its sandstone foundation is from a local quarry.
▪ The Augustana Chapel, dating to 1906, is notable for its compact size. It’s only 38 feet by 64 feet. Except for an added heating vent or two, its interior is a time capsule, unchanged for the past century.
St. John’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, 775 N. 8th St. (1906-1921)
▪ Architect Charles Hummel also designed this church with his firm. Designers intended the church’s imposing square towers to be steeples. A lack of funding cut that plan, and the towers, short. It also meant the church remains a solidly Romanesque structure characterized by rounded arches, thick, massive walls and a sense of solidity.
▪ Builders finished the cathedral’s roof and walls in 1912, sometimes borrowing equipment from the nearby Capitol Building construction project going on at the same time.
▪ Cathedral construction stopped during World War I and resumed in 1919. Church leaders dedicated the cathedral on Easter Sunday, 1921.
▪ A detail to note: Crews installed the church’s stained glass windows in 1920, with the exception of the modern Holy Spirit window directly above the high altar. It was added during a 1979 restoration. The Rambusch Company, which made the windows for First Presbyterian, made the Holy Spirit window at St. John’s.
St. Michael’s Episcopal Cathedral, 518 N. 8th St. (1899-1902)
▪ The gothic revival style building made of local sandstone opened its doors in 1902 to an overflow crowd of 500. The congregation had long-outgrown its original home, the small white church known as Christ Chapel that was moved to the Boise State University campus in the 1960s.
▪ The congregation built its corner “Memorial Peace Tower” in 1949. The tower was part of the original plan.
▪ When you visit, note the baptismal font made from local sandstone with the inscription, “Suffer little children to come unto Me.” Children in the church raised money to buy the font in 1869.
▪ Other special features to find before you leave: a stone in the church’s east transept from the National Cathedral and a nativity-themed stained-glass window, also in the east transept, signed by Louis Comfort Tiffany around 1918.