Grace Cathedral, San Francisco


My last day in Alameda began with sleeping in as late as possible. But before too long we were off to the city to meet some friends of Brian’s parents. Our rendezvous point was in Nob Hill and we ended up parking in a garage across the street from Grace Cathedral.

grace-cathedral

This is hardly the best picture of it that exists in the world, but it’s a beautiful place to visit. The first thing to notice when we walked in were the ribbons suspended from the ceiling. A guide told us there was more than 20 miles of ribbon in all and the installation has gone up in phases over the last 6 months or so in preparation for a musical event that’s planned for later this month.

grace-cathedral-ribbon-installation

The other art was subtly unconventional but very interesting. There are elaborate murals along both walls of the length of the church. They largely tell the story of San Francisco and the Nob Hill area, including construction and reconstruction of the church after the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fire. One of the panels that most caught my eye is also the most recent: a rendering of the signing of the United Nations Charter which happened in San Francisco in 1945.

The mural includes the first line of the preamble of the Charter:

We the Peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind…

grace-cathedral-UN-mural

Beyond the murals, the coolest thing in Grace Cathedral by far is the stained glass. Each window near the ceiling represents a different aspect of life, such as law and social work. Two of my favorites are near the back of the church: exploration and natural science.

Exploration is depicted as John Glenn in full astronaut garb with a rocket launching in the background. It’s incredible how the artist made that happen in stained glass.

grace-cathedral-john-glenn-stained-glass

Unsurprisingly, natural science is depicted by Albert Einstein, complete with his famous E = mc² equation. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such contemporary stained glass, but I definitely like it.

grace-cathedral-einstein-stained glass

Grace Cathedral is still functioning as the Episcopal Cathedral for the Diocese of California. And it has all the trappings of a traditional church, from the altar to the crucifixes to the pews. But if you get a chance to visit, stop and take a closer look at the artwork. It’s one of a kind.

grace-cathedral-altar

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9 thoughts on “Grace Cathedral, San Francisco

  1. The pictures of the cathedral are spectacular, Gail. If I ever get back to San Francisco I’ll definitely visit it. I wonder who came up with the idea of using the stained glass windows in that way. Together with the murals the place serves as a historical art museum as well as a church.

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  2. Beautiful pictures and, like Tom and Anne, I’ve never been there even though I’ve been to SF several times. Would definitely visit if I go again. It surprises me that with such a unique concept in stained glass windows, there hasn’t been more publicity about them. Anne is right–a church and a museum!

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    • I bet a lot of people walk right on by thinking all churches are the same, without giving it a second thought! Although this one has a gift shop in the basement which makes me think they at least occasionally attract a crowd.

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  3. The windows are of two orders: (1) windows that tell religious stories from the bible and the lives of Christ and the saints; and (2) windows that celebrate the accomplishments of human beings. The latter windows are there because God created human beings and the accomplishments of people reflect the glory of God, since God made those people and gave them the gifts they have or had.

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    • Thanks for the additional perspective. Great that they’ve chosen to celebrate the human accomplishments. It’s also interesting which categories are included for the latter: Natural Science, Exploration, Law, Social Work, Letters, etc.

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  4. Pingback: Return of the Blog | I'm Not Yet Dead

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