Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Grace Cathedral at 50: Defining beautiful architecture


A San Francisco sacred space / Grace Cathedral turns 50 this week.

How does one define beautiful architecture?

"Space has always been the spiritual dimension of architecture," the 20th century Canadian architect and urban planner Arthur Erickson once said. "It is not the physical statement of the structure so much as what it contains that moves us."


Grace Cathedral is the third
largest Episcopal cathedral
in the United States.
One of my favorite spaces in the entire world -- and one that I've experienced many times during the past two decades -- sits tall atop Nob Hill in San Francisco. The vibrant city's famous cable cars pass by it on the California Street side of this sacred space. It's a place that I return to often on Sundays, especially during Lent for Easter Sunday and in the season of Advent to worship on Christmas Eve. 

That space is Grace Cathedral, a place to explore; a place to go deeper in one's faith. It is the third largest Episcopal cathedral in the nation, and this week, Grace Cathedral turns 50.

Each time I climb the staircase that frames the cathedral's entrance on Taylor Street and enter this sacred space, I am moved by the beauty of the cathedral's French Gothic architecture, designed by Lewis P. Hobart; the Ghiberti Doors that are opened for special occasions; and the vaulted ceiling arches. There is much to admire in this exalted sacred space -- and photograph, too.


The Keith Haring AIDS Chapel altarpiece.
There's the lyrical Rose window above the main entrance with its the colorful prism-like reflections of light beaming through it and through the stained-glass windows, bathing the pillars and indoor labyrinth in beautiful colors.

There's the historical aisle murals that were painted by Polish painter Jan Henryk De Rosen between 1949-1950 and composed in a style blending the stylistic elements of early Italian masters Giotto and Mantegna.

And, there's the Keith Haring AIDS Chapel altarpiece.


Colorful prism-like colors beam
through the stained-glass
windows onto the indoor
labyrinth at Grace Cathedral.
Cathedrals have long been places of pilgrimage, and Grace Cathedral is celebrating its past, its present and its sustainable future. Work was begun on the present cathedral structure in 1928 and its completion and consecration took place in 1964. Duke Ellington performed his televised Concert of Sacred Music inside Grace Cathedral on September 26, 1965.

I enjoy worshiping at Grace Cathedral, absorbed by its sacred space, which is defined by the beauty of its art, including its medieval and contemporary furnishings. There's also the echoing sound of the majestic ├ćolian-Skinner pipe organ; the 44 bell carillon, and the harmonious voices of the Choir of Men and Boys.


Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Of course, the homilies are meaningful, whether delivered by the Dean of the Cathedral, a visiting theologian, or by a guest homilist such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the anthropologist Dr. Jane Goodall or the playwright Anna Devere Smith.

And, they are always thought provoking, too.

Marcel Proust wrote how "Love is space and time measured by the heart." 

In Grace Cathedral, a house of prayer for everyone, I find solace here each time I visit.

And I know God's generous love awaits me.

To learn more about Grace Cathedral:

All photographs by Michael Dickens, © 2014.

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