Nearly gone is the mottled white paint, and deteriorating pews are being replaced with pews replicating designs from at least as far back as 1911.

St. Augustine Cathedral, a downtown Tucson centerpiece, is being changed from having an austere, outdated interior to one of warmth and light.

The $1 million renovation has "totally changed the feeling of the cathedral," said Fred Allison, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Tucson.

The cathedral, at 192 S. Stone Ave., will soon have a cream-colored interior and a design scheme meant to draw the eyes of visitors and parishioners toward the sanctuary.

The white ceiling is getting a coat of wood-toned paint, and symbols are planned to pay tribute to Father Eusebio Kino, as well as Gospel writers Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Architect John Shaheen, the diocese's property and insurance director, said wallpaper around the archways is being used as part of artist John Alan's concept of trompe l'oeil, or "fool the eye."

"The artist is utilizing color, light and shadow through paint and paper applications to 'create' architectural elements, (such as) the railing, cornice moldings, window trim and, in this case, the detail around the arches," Shaheen said.

The 1960s red-tile floor is also being restored by hand because years of wax kept clogging machines.

About half of the new pews have been installed so far.

Some of the old pews fell apart when they were removed. Those that remained intact have been given away, many to churches in Mexico.

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What's next?

The sanctuary's wooden statue of the risen Christ, which weighs roughly a ton and is beginning to crack, probably will leave soon, perhaps to oversee congregants in a local parish.

The replacement hasn't been announced, but one guess might be what's taking place in the nearby parish hall, where art conservators Tim Lewis and Matilde Rubio continue the painstaking restoration work on the Pamplona Crucifix.

This statue has been at St. Augustine since the mid-1920s and is believed to be from a Spanish artist - then living in Tucson - who acquired it at an auction in Pamplona, Spain. Historians believe the statue is about 600 to 800 years old.


The diocese's capital campaign - dubbed "Our Faith, Our Hope, Our Future" - was under way when the recession hit. Nevertheless, Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas said parishioners were "amazing" in their generosity, pledging more than $44 million toward the $28 million goal. The campaign hopes to realize more than $33 million overall, and pledges, which can be fulfilled until 2013, continue to be steady; $1 million of this funding is being used on the current interior renovations.

Did you know

The choir loft has never been used for a choir or anything else, for that matter. Why? There's no stairway to access it - only a straight up-and-down ladder.

"The artist has not started work in this area," John Shaheen, the diocese's property and insurance director, said of the choir loft.

"He is awaiting the completion of the ceiling and adjacent walls so he can design this space within that context. His goal for this space is to enhance the presence of the rose stained-glass window."

About the name

A cathedral is called a cathedral because of the bishop's seat at the head of the sanctuary. This adorned chair is called a "cathedra," a Greek word meaning "chair" or "throne." Each time a new bishop joins a diocese, a new ecclesiastical coat of arms adorns the back of the chair. The cathedra at St. Augustine Cathedral has had its coat of arms changed five times.

Contact Patty Machelor at 806-7754 or