San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral is in the news after announcing all visitors must be vaccinated.
As previously reported, the vaccine passport requirement applies to anyone older than 12, both sightseers and those wanting to attend services and partake in the sacraments at the Episcopal (Anglican) cathedral.
Of course, controversy is nothing new for Grace Cathedral, the seat of the Episcopal bishop of California.
It has been the subject of endless theological and liturgical controversies since at least the 1960s, when James Pike held the once-prominent bishopric. More recently, there was a “Beyoncé Mass” denounced by critics as blasphemous for, among other things, its rewriting of the Lord’s Prayer. Then was the comical and decidedly un-Christian service focusing on climate change. While some debate whether Grace Cathedral upholds the faith once delivered, they clearly share P.T. Barnum’s belief that any kind of publicity is good if your name is spelled right.
Built between 1910 and 1964 to replace an earlier cathedral destroyed during the Great Earthquake of 1906, the Gothic revival edifice atop San Francisco’s Nob Hill is — controversies notwithstanding — truly spectacular.
The design by architect Lewis Hobart, who studied at the famed Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, was heavily influenced by the great French churches and cathedrals of the medieval era. Think Notre-Dame in Paris and the cathedrals in Amiens and Chartres.
That influence is perhaps most visible at the west front with its 174-foot-tall twin towers and great rose window. The only contrasting element is the central portal with its Renaissance gilded bronze doors, which are copies of Lorenzo Ghiberti’s 15th century originals, called the “Gates of Paradise,” in Florence, Italy.
At the same time, modern construction methods featuring steel and poured concrete were used to make it more resistant to earthquakes, which are a persistent threat given San Francisco’s location along the Pacific Ring of Fire.
Ignoring its deviations from medieval construction, Grace Cathedral has an air of authenticity that other Gothic-inspired churches and cathedrals lack. This explains why it has always been a popular destination for tourists.
If you go
As part of Grace Cathedral’s phased reopening, sightseeing tours remain suspended, though regular non-liturgical programming allows vaccinated visitors the opportunity to go inside.
Scheduled Sunday services include holy communion at 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. with liturgies based on the Episcopal Church’s 1979 Book of Common Prayer.
Dennis Lennox writes about travel, politics and religious affairs. He has been published in the Financial Times, Independent, The Detroit News, Toronto Sun and other publications. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter.