The Virgin and the six saints hidden in a church basement

Rennaisance painting the centrepiece

For perhaps 50 years, Seattle’s St James Cathedral hid a secret. Carefully tucked away in the basement out of sight was a painting of Mary, the Infant Jesus and six saints. The National Catholic Register has the story.

But it wasn’t just any old piece of artwork. When the painting was discovered in the 1950s, it appeared curiously old, being painted on canvas affixed to wooden panels. As it turned out, the painting was created by Florentine artist Neri di Bicci in 1456.

The Renaissance piece is called Mary and Child With Six Saints, a title that was commonly used for commissioned paintings of that era. The person ordering such a painting was allowed to pick out the six saints he wished to have depicted in the artwork. The client behind this painting selected Sts Luke, Bartholomew, Lawrence, John the Baptist, Martin of Tours, and Sebastian.

In 2005, the aged, fraying painting was restored by experts at the Seattle Art Museum. Today, it hangs on the north wall of the cathedral chapel and is considered the parish’s greatest treasure. No one has ever discovered who placed the painting in the church’s basement, or when it was hidden there.

Seattle’s St James Cathedral was dedicated in 1907. Perched on a prominent rise in the city’s First Hill neighbourhood — Seattle is built on nine hills — it once towered impressively over the landscape. Today, skyscrapers and other high-rise buildings crowd in around St. James, hiding its splendor. To help it once again stand out, the parish installed lighting that highlights its towers each evening.

Much as the cathedral is rather hidden in the growing, bustling city, nothing in its interior immediately catches your eye when you first step inside. A small square altar is placed in the centre, and the requisite stained-glass windows line the sides, as do various pieces of statuary.

But don’t let its rather understated interior disappoint. There are plenty of gems here, once one takes a closer look.

Photo: The interior of St. James includes a painting of Mary, Jesus and saints dating to the 15th century and other Marian icons and statues (Melanie McManus)


Mysterious Marian Painting Highlights West Coast Church

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