This historic Episcopal church was constructed between 1926 and 1927 for a congregation that was established around 1882 by Francis Wayles Eppes, a grandson of Thomas Jefferson. The Gothic Revival-style building was later expanded in 1987. The congregation established Orlando's first hospital, which operated from 1895 to 1918. The church is also home to the famous Orlando Deanery Boychoir, which has performed at venues such as the White House and Carnegie Hall. Today the Cathedral of Saint Luke is the head church of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida and is open to the public.
The Cathedral of Saint
Luke traces its origins back to Francis Wayles Eppes, the grandson of President
Thomas Jefferson. Eppes left his native Virginia for Tennessee in 1826, living
in Tallahassee until he moved again to the small town of Orlando in 1869. A
member of the Episcopal Church, Eppes began organizing the first gatherings of
Episcopalian settlers in the area. The first members of this group were the
Eppes, Greetham, Summerlin, Westcott, and Shine families. They would usually
gather for services in Francis Eppes’ home; occasionally a preacher would visit
and perform the services.
In 1881 the small group
established their own church named St. Luke’s Mission. The following year they
purchased a plot of land for $300 and constructed a small wood church. It was
consecrated by the Bishop of Florida, The Right Rev. Edwin Gardner Weed, on
March 18, 1892. In 1902 St. Luke was officially designated a cathedral, or head
church, of what would become the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Florida (today
the Diocese of Central Florida). The designation of St. Luke as a cathedral was
pushed by Rev. William Crane Gray, who chose Orlando because it was the biggest
and fastest-growing city in the area.
In 1900, the church
established a school for girls, originally named the Pell-Clark School for Girls
and later changed to the Cathedral School for Girls, which functioned until
1968. In 1895 the church helped open the first hospital in Orlando; it was
known simply as the Church Home and Hospital before being renamed St. Luke’s
Hospital in 1915. The hospital closed in 1918 after Orange General Hospital
opened. During the Florida Land Boom of the 1920s, the church decided to erect
a formal, elaborate cathedral to replace their simple wood frame building.
Phillip H. Frohman, who had served as chief architect of the Washington
National Cathedral, was commissioned to design the new building. Construction
began in 1925, but the end of the land boom forced the church to scale back
their plans and only the nave was built. Work on the rest of the cathedral did
not resume until the 1980s, with it finally being completed in 1987. In 1981
St. Luke established the famous Orlando Deanery Boychoir (and later the Girl
Choir). They have performed in multiple countries around the world and at
venues such as New York’s Carnegie Hall and the White House’s East Wing.
St. Luke held a
memorial service in the aftermath of the June 12, 2016 Pulse night club
shooting that killed forty-nine people and wounded fifty-three. On June 18, a
funeral was held at the church for one of the victims, Christopher “Drew”
Leinonen. The service attracted news coverage when several members of the
Westboro Baptist Church protested at the funeral; they were met by dozens of
counter-protesters who blocked them from the church.