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The Red Church



Sonora, like other mining communities in the Mother Lode experienced a rough and rugged period in the early mining days.  In 1859 a group of loyal churchmen who had remained in Tuolumne County after the boom days of the gold rush, discussed the possibility of having a church of their own.  Three men - Cabel Dorsey, Abner Pitts, and Frederick Salter - comprised the committee that stared the wheels rolling toward building a church in Sonora.

The committee drafted a letter to Bishop Kip in San Francisco outlining their plan.  Ina short time, Bishop Kip was able to assign the man who was capable of filling the position.  the Reverend John G. Gassman, a native of Norway arrived in Sonora on December 17, 1859.  He was enthusiastic about the challenge and also had considerable skill as a builder, as well as ideas for the plan and architecture of the church.

The church was built over the now abandoned workings of the Bonanza Mine, one of California's richest pocket mines.  The first service in the new church was held on October 4, 1860.  St. James' Episcopal Church was consecrated by Bishop Kip in November, 1970.

In 1868, the west side of St. James' was damaged by fire when the United States Hotel

across the street burned.  This necessitated extensive repairs to the church. In 1949,

the building was carefully renovated and modernized, with further renovations in 1970 and 1973.

The Schism

St. James' was part of the Episcopal Church until 2007. A schism occurred over various theological issues and a number of the churches in the diocese dissolved their affiliation with The Episcopal Church. They accepted oversight by the Province of the Southern Cone, in South America.


A number of Episcopalians wished to remain with the Church. These faithful, with the assistance of the governing bodies of The Episcopal Church, reorganized the diocese. On March 29, 2008, a Special Convention was held, led by the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori. The Rt. Rev. Jerry Lamb became our first provisional bishop.


On that day St. Mary in the Mountains - organized in January 2008 by The Rev. Martin Risard, and his wife Alice - was formally recognized. Our first home was in a small room in the Senior Center in Sonora. Fr. Martin retired in 2010 and the Rev. Stan Coppel became priest-in-charge of the congregation.


In July 2011, after several weeks of backbreaking labor to get the building ready, we moved to our next location in Jamestown. Our first service coincided with the first visit of our new provisional bishop, the Rt. Rev. Chester Talton, who consecrated the building for use as our church.


After much time, litigation, and negotiation, St. James', popularly known as “The Red Church” returned to the Episcopal Church. The first service held upon the return of the church was on July 7, 2013.


Once again, St. James' Sonora, is part of Diocese of San Joaquin.


The Bell


The bell was cast in the late 1800's. It is rung announcing each service. It is also rung to announce the beginning of Mother Lode Round-up Rodeo and Sonora Christmas Parades.

The Steeple

Thanks to a generous donation from Sonora Area Foundation, necessary repairs to the Steeple were completed in 2017.

The Roof

Through the years and all kinds of weather, the roof needed replacing. In 2019, we were excited that local JMK Roofing out of Soulsbyville took on the project of re-roofing our antique gem. As an historic building, it was important that the job be done in keeping with the original architecture. We believe they did a spectacular job and are thrilled with the result. 


Below you can see the work in progress.  To the right is the detail of the completed roof. 


Following the new roof, the building was repainted.


The work of both the roof and the paint were completed with funds

donated by an Angel Donor, who wishes to remain anonymous. 

We are eternally grateful.   

Flentrop Pipe Organ

St. James' Episcopal Church has a pipe organ manufactured by Flentrop Orgelbouw in Zaandam, Holland. It is a single manual (keyboard) unit with 4 stops, or voices. The manual covers from C-G'" and the foot pedals from C-D'. The stops are named (in Dutch) Gedekt 8', Fluit 4', Prestant 2' and Mixtuur II. The Gedekt 8' (Gedeckt in German) stop is a type of covered flute stop while the Fluit 4' stop is an "open flute voice. The Prestant 2' is an open diapason stop and the Mixtuur II, a combination of the other three. The organ is tuned each year and the mechanism is inspected and serviced, such as the air compressor to assure reliable and "in-pitch" performance. The unit is approximately 89 inches tall x 59 inches wide and at 24 inches; deep is increased to about 4 foot depth by the foot pedal and organist's bench. It was installed during 1973.

Stained Glass Windows

The East Wall contains four stained glass windows of Biblical themes.  Beginning at the rear of the church and moving towards the front, they are as follows:

The Resurrection window, the Ascension window, the Gethsemane window, the Children's window.  All of the leaded stained glass windows are a rare type.  Details have been painted on the pieces of the glass before firing, adding to the richness of the color of the windows.  

The Chapel of St. Mary the Virgin has two windows: the Assumption and the Annunciation, representing the story of the Virgin Mary, the mother of our Lord.

From the center of the church, you may look back over the loft and see the St. James window.  

The West wall contains four more stained glass windows with Biblical themes.  From the front of the church going towards the rear they are as follows:  

The Mary and Elizabeth window, the Nativity window, the Lord in the Temple window, and the Good Shepherd window.

In the Sacristy, the small room used for the preparation of the Holy Eucharist and vesting of the clergy, there are two more windows:

The Last Supper Window and The Sunday in the Mother Lode Window.  


The Sunday in the Motherlode was created by William Rundstrom in 1990.


John William Rundstrom was born on 6 May 1909 at Garvanza, Los Angeles Co., California. Garvanza is now known as Highland Park, California.  He married Muriel (Mosher) Rundstrom in 1936.  John William Rundstrom died on 8 December 2003 at Concord, Contra Costa Co., California, at age 94. John William Rundstrom also went by the name of Bill Rundstrom. He was painter and stained glass artist between 1923 and 2003 at California.  He lived between 1990 and 2003 at Pine Mountain Lake, Groveland, Tuolumne Co., California.

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