While on a short trip to San Francisco we made a point to travel over to Oakland to see this newly opened cathedral designed by the well-known New York firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. And, I was most glad we did. Situated on the northwest shore of Lake Merritt it definitely makes a bold statement.
The architecture is a radical shift from cathedrals of old as seen throughout Europe and the rest of the world both in it's exterior design as well as interior functions. In fact, I was struck by how very non-traditional everything about the layout was for a Catholic church, for example having the choir in a semi-circle at the front end behind the alter. Except for a few hints it could easily be a church of any denomination. And yet, looking closer and reading more about the architect's vision, you learn that it is filled with design elements that are religious-based and steeped in symbols of the church from ancient times.
The design is a very clean, modern look that is dominated by the theme of light. The projected window of Christ taken from a 12th century image found in the Chartres Cathedral is especially effective as is the interplay of the louvers and roof elements. The mausoleum downstairs is beautifully done and definitely worth a visit as well.
The cathedral is part of a large complex of buildings including an underground parking structure, plaza, gift shop, outdoor fountain, and rectory. Cross over to the lake to get nice overview pictures but unfortunately there is a very ugly building behind it that ruins much of the drama of the building so choose your camera views carefully.
There is a daily tour at 1:00pm on Mondays-Fridays. In addition, there is an advertised short organ concert on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays. Unfortunately, although we were told the organ would be played the day we were there, we waited in vain and finally told apparently they had changed the schedule which was a shame.
This is a definite visit for the architecture fan, especially those interested in religious spaces. Much of the design is quite successful and innovative and you will definitely enjoy your visit.
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