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San Francisco's Top 10 : Grace Cathedral

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Inspired by Notre Dame in Paris, the third largest Episcopal cathedral in the US stands on the site of Charles Crocker’s Nob Hill mansion, which was destroyed in the 1906 disaster. Work began on it in 1910 but was not finally completed until 1964. It is constructed of steel and concrete, despite its Gothic look, so as to withstand the city’s seismic vagaries. The interior is replete with marble and abundant stained glass, and other sumptuous touches both within and without make it one of America’s most lavish religious structures.


Nob Hill

“Nob” was one of the kinder names reserved for the unscrupulous entrepreneurs who built their mansions on this, San Francisco’s highest hill . Some say the name derives from “nabob”, the title for a provincial potentate in India; others say it’s simply a contraction of “snob”, a theory that would also seem plausible. Despite the loss of almost all of the mansions in the 1906 earthquake, the hill’s poshness remains, as home to the city’s most celebrated luxury hotels.


Floorplan of Grace Cathedral

Façade

The cathedral has a simple café, located downstairs on the north side of Cathedral Close, along with a shop.


Visit the cathedral during Thursday Evensong (usually at 5:15pm), when the lighting is at its most dramatic.


The Chapel of Grace seats 120 people and is used for daily services, weddings, and special events.




Top 10 Features
  1. Carillon Tower

    The belfry contains a carillon of 44 bronze bells, cast in England in 1938. The bourdon bell, which tolls the hour, is the largest European-style bell in the US. Many of the bells have evocative names, such as Loving Kindness, and Joy to the World.

  2. Rose Window

    This 25-ft (8-m) work of faceted glass symbolizes the themes of the Canticle of the Sun, a famous devotional poem written by St. Francis of Assisi.

  3. Chapel of Grace

    This chapel was the first completed unit of the cathedral (1930). Its architecture, windows, and apse mural were inspired by the royal Sainte Chapelle in Paris. Its furnishings are a mix of ages and origins, including the medieval French stone altar, the 17th-century German altar cross, the English Gothic prayer desk, and the painting of the Madonna and Child inspired by Italian Renaissance artist Giovanni Bellini.

  4. Doors of Paradise

    The cathedral doors are bronze and gold plate replicas of the ones made for the Baptistry in Florence, Italy. The 10 panels depict Old Testament stories, beginning at the top left with Adam and Eve.

  5. New Testament Window

    The theme of this window is brotherhood and the church. Christ stands with a welcoming gesture, with His disciples flanking.

  6. 20th-Century Windows

    The theme of these windows is human endeavor and they depict creative 20th-century Americans, including physicist Albert Einstein, and astronaut John Glenn.

  7. Keith Haring’s Altarpiece

    The AIDS Interfaith Memorial Chapel contains a triptych altarpiece of bronze and white gold by the New York artist Keith Haring. It was completed shortly before his own death from AIDS. The central panel shows a multi-armed figure of compassion, while the side panels depict winged souls soaring above.

  8. The Organ

    This monumental organ dates from 1934. The carved English oak organ screens show angelic musicians, songbirds, and dragons, as well as the instruments of Christ’s Passion in the lower portions.

  9. Marble Labyrinth

    The Interfaith Outdoor Labyrinth is a replica of the one at Chartres Cathedral in France. Such labyrinths were used in medieval times to mimic the arduous pilgrimage to Jerusalem; this practice has recently been revived.

  10. Maze and Bufano St. Francis of Assisi

    Just beyond the entrance is another floor labyrinth, and an appealing statue of St. Francis of Assisi by the late San Franciscan sculptor Beniamino Bufano.

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