Holy Trinity Cathedral (San Francisco, California)

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Holy Trinity Cathedral in San Francisco, California is the cathedral of the Archbishop of San Francisco and the West of the Orthodox Church in America. The present church building was built after the previous structure was destroyed in the Great San Francisco earthquake of 1906.


The origins of Holy Trinity Cathedral in San Francisco can be traced to the founding of the first Orthodox Society in San Francisco on December 2, 1857. Initially, with no resident priest in San Francisco the Russian and Serbian residents of San Francisco depended on services by Russian priests from visiting Russian ships. The first such priest arrived in 1859 who baptized a number of children. In 1864, a parish was formally founded with the assistance of the priest Cyril from a visiting Russian ship that provided the ecclesiastical furnishings for the community. On September 2, 1867, the parish society registered with the San Francisco city government as the Greek Russian Slavonian Orthodox Eastern Church and Benevolent Society. The Holy Synod of the Church of Russia under wrote for two years the salary of the first assigned priest, Fr. Nicholas Kovrygin. The first church, the House of Prayer of the Orthodox Church at 504 Greenwich Street, offered services in Old Slavonic, Serbian, and Greek.

In 1872, Bishop John (Mitropolsky), the ruling bishop of the diocese of the Alaskan Islands and Alaska received approval of the Russian Holy Synod to transfer the diocesan see from Sitka, Alaska to San Francisco. The first cathedral was established on Jackson Street in 1972 and was followed by moves successively to Pierce Street in 1874, then in 1881 to Powell Street. During these years the cathedral parish community was dedicated to various saints: Ss. Alexander Nevsky, Nicholas, and Basil the Great, before receiving its current dedication to the Holy Trinity on November 16, 1897.

Serving a diverse community, the parish saw the ordination of the first American-born Orthodox priest in Fr. Sebastian Dabovich, of Serbian origin, who was among those infants baptized by a Russian chaplain in 1863 and, as a missionary priest established the second Orthodox church in California in Jackson, Amador County in 1894.

During the years following the departure of Bp. John (Mitropolsky), the Holy Trinity community continued as the see of the Orthodox community in North America, through the succession of Bps. Nestor (Zakkis), Vladimir (Sokolovsky-Avtonomov), Nicholas (Ziorov), and Tikhon. With the arrival of Bp. Tikhon in 1899, the use of English as a liturgical language was introduced in the Holy Trinity services.

In 1905, the Holy Synod of Russia approved moving the see of the American diocese to New York so as to be centered among the new immigrant Orthodox population in the United States, with a new title, Diocese of the Aleutians and North America.

During his tenure as metropolitan of the church in North America, Metr. Theophilus (Pashkovsky) maintained a residence at Holy Trinity Cathedral. After the North American Diocese received its autocephaly from the Church of Russia in 1970, Holy Trinity Cathedral became the cathedra for the Diocese of San Francisco and the West of the Orthodox Church in America.


In 1906, the Holy Trinity Cathedral on Powell Street and its seven onion domes was totally destroyed in the great San Francisco earthquake. Only the set of five bronze bells, that had been cast in Moscow in 1888, survived, as they had been removed for repairs to the bell tower before the earthquake. Immediately, plans were made to rebuilt the cathedral at a new and current location, 1520 Green Street.

The new cathedral was completed in 1909, with modifications in 1934 and 1979 to 1984, including rebuilding the bell tower in 1979. The design of the building combines distinctive Russian elements with features of the turn-of-the-century American Period Revival era. The Russian components include the kokosniki-decorated base and gilded finial of the bell tower and main dome, the various gilded crosses, and the minor polygonal dome. The flat pedimented main door, rusticated surfaces, block-outlined cornices, and rich Georgian balustrade reflect American influence. Holy Trinity Cathedral occupies the main floor of the building, while the St. Innocent Chapel is on the lower level. The chapel is dedicated to the seventeenth-century missionary bishop of Irkutsk in Siberia reflecting that at one time both Alaska and California were part of the diocese of Irkutsk.