The Founding of the Episcopal Church in the West

The territory of Denver was a series of mining camps in 1860 when Father John Kehler arrived from Maryland. Leaving the political tensions surrounding the Civil War behind, Kehler founded the first Episcopal community in Colorado.

During the years that Denver was becoming a city and Colorado a territory, Saint John’s was establishing an Anglican community. Given the initial name of Saint John’s in the Wilderness, the closest Episcopal church was over 700 miles away in Kansas.

Saint John's Becomes a Cathedral

Shortly after Father Kehler’s arrival, a Southern Methodist church was abandoned on 14th and Arapahoe, and this became the first regular home for Saint John’s.

In 1879, Bishop of Colorado and Wyoming, the Rt. Rev. John Spalding named Saint John’s in the Wilderness as the cathedral church for the area. Two years later, the church moved into its first cathedral building at the corner of 20th and Welton.

Our Current Cathedral Building

After a fire struck the building in 1903, the cathedral held a competition for an architectural design for the new building. The cornerstone for what now stands as the cathedral was laid on January 24, 1909, and the building was completed in 1911. It houses a collection of significant religious artwork, including Oberammergau carvings (many of which are from the first cathedral) as well as stained glass windows from the Edward Frampton Studios of London and the Charles J. Connick Studios of Boston.

The Cathedral's Legacy

Since the founding of the Episcopal community in Colorado, the cathedral’s central location in the city and its early founding allow the cathedral to have a large influence in the wider community. Just steps away from the capitol building, the cathedral has a legacy of beauty, mystery, and goodness that impacts the daily lives in Capitol Hill, Denver, Colorado, and beyond.

Over the years, the cathedral’s clergy have left their mark in various ways, including helping to found the United Way, being a civil rights leader in Denver, and establishing the organization that we now know as the St. Francis Center.

The Cathedral Today

Under recent leadership, the cathedral partnered again with the St. Francis Center to create the Apartments at Cathedral Square for transitional housing. With Dean Richard’s leadership and a dedicated and strategic staff, the cathedral looks forward to deeper connections with and impacts in the community.

This short history is no more than a glimpse at our rich history and draws almost exclusively on our official history: Saint John’s Church in the Wilderness: A History of St. John’s Cathedral in Denver, Colorado, 1860 – 2000 by Robert Irving Woodward. Available from many online booksellers and to borrow in our cathedral library.

Articles from the Arts & Architecture Committee

The Arts & Architecture Committee has released articles on the memorial plaques and other historic memorials in and around the cathedral nave. Click on the links below to read more about some of the characters from our rich history.

Charles Kountze
Evelyn Denison
Forbes Rickard
Edward and Lawrence Powers
Leonard Eicholtz
Henry Johnson Hersey
Frances Thatcher
William Yardley
Henry Houseley
Horace Hitchings
Helen Arndt
Earl James Sinnamon
The Cornforth Family
Mysteries in the Chancel