St. Theodosius Cathedral begins its long recovery

To stabilize St. Theodosius Cathedral following its May 28 fire, the landmark onion-shaped dome was removed from the top of the structure (Phil Bowman). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM.

NEOtrans obtains close-up photos of fire damage

Plans for shoring up the structure of St. Theodosius Cathedral, 733 Starkweather Ave., in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood, to prevent its collapse following last week’s devastating fire were submitted to the city. The plans included close-up photographs of the extensive damage caused by the accidental May 28 fire. The photos were filed with the city today and published here by NEOtrans.

Equipped with cranes and lifts, crews worked quickly this week to remove heavy structures and adornments that might threaten the collapse of already weakened supports at the 113-year-old Orthodox Christian Church. The orb and cross was removed first, followed by the large onion-shaped dome or cupola below it. Three days after the fire were chilling emergency reports to the fire department that “the dome appears to be about to collapse.”

This week, Lou Ritenour Decorators of Twinsburg filed documents with the city’s Building Department regarding the securing of the building and the removal of features that may not be salvageable. Civil engineering firm Osborn Engineers of Cleveland is guiding the work. The work being done to save the church from collapse is estimated at $135,000, public records show.

Before the main dome was dismantled, damage to it and the structure below is visible in this photograph taken by crews and filed with the city. At the bottom, one can see down into the church’s sanctuary (Cleveland Building Department).

“Make safe the dome and adjacent structure,” said the applicant of its intent in its June 4 permit application. “Remove dome and install shoring for on an emergency basis. Projected completion of removal and shoring (is) June 13, 2024. Stabilization and shoring design and details to be submitted as a differed submittal per CBO (Chief Building Official Tom) Vanover.”

It’s a strange sight to see the church overlooking the industrial valley without its signature dome for the first time in more than a century. That dome has been a beacon to generations of Eastern European immigrants who lived in and near Tremont and worked in the factories and mills, said Father Jan Cizmar of St. Theodosius Orthodox Christian Cathedral on a GoFundMe page to raise donations for the rebuilding effort.

But as of June 6, only $7,544 has been raised toward the church’s $1 million goal. While the church has fire insurance, it won’t pay for the entire rebuilding effort, Cizmar said. And the cost of paying specialized craftsman to clean and restore the cathedral won’t be cheap.

While the lateral steel roof supports seen in yellow appear to have survived the fire in good condition, the same cannot be said for wooden vertical and lattice supports visible here. Some are extensively charred (Cleveland Building Department).

“It (the church) is on the registry of Historical Landmarks and must be restored to its original beauty and architecture,” he said. “To do this, we must use artisans who know how to perform 113-year-old construction methods, which makes it very expensive to complete. Many people ask if we have insurance and yes we do, but we know it will cost much more than that. Please help us secure the funding to restore this beautiful treasure, our cathedral and historical landmark.”

At about 4:30 p.m. May 28, roofers doing restoration work on a landing below the top dome accidentally started the fire, affording to fire department officials. Smoke from the fire was seen for miles around. Smoke, smoldering debris and water from firefighters poured into the sanctuary of the cathedral, damaging murals, pews and other features.

The largest dome or cupola atop an Orthodox Christian Church like St. Theodosius signifies Christ, the sole head of the Christian community. Three secondary cupolas symbolize the Most-Holy Trinity. Churches with five smaller cupolas represent Christ and the four Evangelists while those with seven cupolas symbolize the Seven Ecumenical Councils which formulated the basic dogmas of the Orthodox Church.

Darkened by soot, St. Theodosius’ beautiful stained-glass windows, ornate chandeliers and the faith of its parishioners remain intact (St. Theodosius GoFundMe).

St. Theodosius was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, according to city records. It is named for Roman Emperor Theodosius I who in the year 380 declared Nicene Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. Cleveland’s St. Theodosius Cathedral was built for $70,000 due from donations by the people of Cleveland and possibly beyond.

“It is believed that Russia’s Czar Nicholas II–the one whose entire family was murdered during the Revolution of 1917–also contributed,” wrote Michael Rotman and Jim Dubelko. They also noted the church was pictured in a number of scenes in the 1978 Academy Award-winning movie “The Deer Hunter” starring Robert DeNiro and Meryl Streep.


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