A project to recreate the five historic churches in Jacksonville’ Cathedral District in gingerbread is under construction now for two reasons: highlight a Dec. 4 tour of the area and show them at the historical society’ annual Gingerbread Extravaganza.

Linda Crofton stood over the 6-by-6-foot wooden board as her crew of cathedral creators gathered around, pointing where each of their five gingerbread creations would go.

As community development director for Cathedral District Jax, she’s coordinating the plan to build the sweet replicas to ultimately be shown at the 17th annual Gingerbread Extravaganza in December, showcasing the churches, homes and other development in that section of downtown.

But first, which church goes where when they are built.

“This is Beaver Street, and this is Duval,” she said, pointing to the roads painted on the board where parts of the St. John’s Cathedral model already stand. “This is going to be the Basilica, and First Presbyterian is going to be here.”

Cathedral District is a 36-block neighborhood around St. John’s Cathedral at 256 E. Church St. in downtown Jacksonville, a 118-acre area being redeveloped with new homes and businesses.

Cathedral District Jax is a nonprofit founded in 2016 to spearhead the renewal effort, including a new 120-unit mixed-income apartment complex. The other houses of worship there include First Presbyterian Church, First United Methodist Church, the Catholic Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, and Historic Mount Zion A.M.E.

Standing in the kitchen at the cathedral’s Taliaferro Hall, members from all five churches wore aprons as they met Thursday to begin construction of the cathedral and church models.

Crofton said the project to create smaller gingerbread versions of the historic churches was part of a Dec. 4 “Christmas in the Cathedral District” event that includes tours of each and more in the district.

The little churches will be shown at the Jacksonville Historical Society’s Gingerbread Extravaganza as a sweet road map of the district, that event starting the same day as its public tour of the sanctuaries and the historic area around it.

It will also include a model of the historic 100-year-old Elena Flats apartment building on East Duval Street, renovated into luxury units.

“Some of them will be more extravagant than others. But the main thing is they will all have a caricature of the churches they represent,” she said. “We made this base that shows the streets in front of the different churches, and they will have the names on them. … Each one of those are a stop on the tour.”

First step: Bake the walls of each mini-church, starting with lessons in rolling out the aromatic dough. Crofton showed how to roll out the small walls, demonstrating how to etch a brick-like design in each before cutting them to size. Meanwhile, the red doors of the First Presbyterian had to be made using the right color icing, as well as some colored candy dust.

Susanne and Mike Swann, from St. John’s Cathedral, decided to become architect and builder of their sanctuary’s replica. By Thursday, their work already included the walls of the Gothic Revival main building and an assembled round annex with chocolate frosting as the base of the roof, represented with cardboard pieces that will be replaced with gingerbread.

It’s been a challenge so far, but Susanne Swann said she’s excited to show off the historical churches that people “don’t ever come out” and see.

“I never did it before, and never did a gingerbread anything. I read everything I could find online and proceeded to go for it,” she said. “We were told to make it small, so we are because there was only so much room they had in the Historical Society to display it.”

Stained-glass windows have been made from candy, and might even be lit from inside for display, she added.

To showcase the area, the nonprofit agency hosts a “Christmas in the Cathedral District” from 5 to 8:30 p.m. on Dec. 4, with walking tours that include the five churches, their choirs performing outside, plus a live Nativity scene, petting zoo and Bethlehem Market.

Then people can see the miniature church display at the Jacksonville Historical Society’s Gingerbread Extravaganza, among 50 edible creations built by area businesses, families and nonprofit agencies. That is on display from Dec. 4 through 28 at Old St. Andrew’s Historic Church, 317 A. Philip Randolph St.

Dan Scanlan: (904) 359-4549


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