First-time visitors to the Cathedral are almost always dazzled by the brilliant colors of the interior, particularly since the paint was cleaned during the renovation of the early 1990s. As built by Bishop Lawrence Scanlan and dedicated in 1909, the interior was much more modest, decorated only in white with green accents. The present decorations date to 1917, when the second bishop of the diocese, Bishop Joseph S. Glass, hired mural artist Felix Lieftuchter to paint the scenes we see today. Only the most dedicated Cathedral historians, though, are aware of the fact that Bishop Glass's work was not confined to the interior, for he also accomplished two major alterations in the South Temple façade of the church.
One was a realignment of the steps leading from the street to the church doors. If one compares the photograph accompanying this article with the steps as they presently exist, it is obvious that another pitch of steps leading east and west have been added. At the same time, a plaque honoring Bishop Scanlan was added, as well as one with Bishop Glass's motto, "Fortitudo et Pax," (fortitude and peace), and an "E Pluribus Unam" (out of many, one) plaque.
Another is that the tympanum, the large bas-relief scupture panel directly above the main entrance, was replaced. The original tympanum was a rather crudely executed crucifixion scene set within a cloverleaf framework. The present tympanum is a much more elaborate work created by Francis Aretz in Pittsburgh over a seven year period and shipped to Salt Lake City in several pieces. It depicts Christ as High Priest, surrounded by angels, the twelve apostles, and four Doctors of the Church. For the panels over the side door arches he carved depictions of the seven sacraments (west) and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (east).
It is no accident that the official Sunday morning Cathedral tours begin beneath the tympanum, with the guide explaining the symbolism and the artistic excellence of the sculpture. It serves to lift the visitors' spirits and to prepare them for the blast of color they will experience in a few moments when they walk inside.