Oakland’s Cathedral of Christ the Light

“You can go to Europe and see Gothic cathedrals,” said a priest in response to one of a million complaints regarding the latest example of modern architecture confronting the citizens of the Bay Area. “You can come to Oakland and see this.”

Well, we went to Europe for five of our last six vacations and we visited many magnificent Gothic cathedrals. Romanesque, Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical, too. So a couple of weeks ago when we got a day off from our grandkids daycare service we skipped flying 5,000 miles to Europe and instead drove 20 miles to Oakland to see the newest and closest cathedral: The Cathedral of Christ the Light. We walked through the main entrance to the baptismal font, gazed at the view of the entire interior from there and uttered that one magical three-letter word: “Wow!”

The Wow moment. The image of Christ the Light is projected from 94,000 pixels in aluminum panels.

The Wow moment. The image of Christ the Light is projected from 94,000 pixels in aluminum panels.

The Diocese of Oakland was created in 1962 and Floyd Begin was appointed the first bishop and the downtown parish church of St Francis de Sales turned into a cathedral. Then came the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 and there went the cathedral. Finally, after years of meditating, negotiating, praying, planning and raising money, the construction of a new cathedral on the shores of Lake Merritt commenced in 2005. The Cathedral of Christ the Light was completed in 2008 with a solemn dedication on September 25th of that year and Bishop Begin, who had died in 1977, was re-interred in the Cathedral’s mausoleum a few weeks later.

The Cathedral of Christ the Light.

The Cathedral of Christ the Light.

Craig W. Hartman of the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill designed the church and it was built by Webcor Builders out of Douglas fir, steel, concrete and lots of glass. It was designed to resemble a fish and the Vesica Piscis shape, formed by the intersection of two circles, dominates the building. The ceiling and roof is an oculus containing 140 aluminum panels. There are two main windows in the church: the Alpha Window at the entrance above the baptismal font and the Omega Window behind the altar. In this latter window are 94,000 pixels, basically holes in aluminum panels, that project the image of Christ the Light. The image is taken from the tympanum above the Royal Portal of Chartres Cathedral’s west facade.

View of the Alpha Window from the main altar.

View of the Alpha Window from the main altar.

The cathedral’s design was not the only controversy that stirred up passions during the building project. The estimated cost of $190 million also caused quite an uproar, especially during a period when the diocese was being sued for a series of child sex abuse incidents by priests. A number of cost-cutting measures took effect during the last year of construction and the final cost for the project was only $175 million. There is also a garden and sculpture in the Cathedral Plaza dedicated to the victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.

There are several small chapels around the periphery of the Cathedral. This one is called The Chapel of the Suffering Christ.

There are several small chapels around the periphery of the Cathedral. This one is called The Chapel of the Suffering Christ.

The Baptismal Font at the Cathedral's main entrance. The stairs on the right lead to the mausoleum on the first floor.

The Baptismal Font at the Cathedral’s main entrance and vestibule. The stairs on the right lead to the mausoleum on the first floor.

A confessional.

A confessional.

Bronze replica of Michelangelo's Pieta at the foot of the staircase and entrance to the mausoleum.

Bronze replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta at the foot of the staircase and entrance to the mausoleum. The marble in the mausoleum is from Michelangelo’s Carrara mountains in Tuscany.

The Cathedral has received several awards for religious architecture, interior design, wood construction and architectural engineering.

The Cathedral is located on the corner of Grand Avenue and Harrison Street just across the street from the lake and the Cathedral Plaza adjoins Ordway Plaza (home of the Kaiser Permanente Ordway Building) which is just across 21st Street from Kaiser Center. The main entrance to the second floor is from the plaza. The Harrison Street entrance is to the mausoleum, Events Center and Diocesan offices. There are internal and external staircases as well as an elevator to the second-floor entrance.

View of main aisle of mausoleum from the Pieta sculpture.

View of main aisle of mausoleum from the Pieta sculpture.

View of right aisle of mausoleum. Bishop Begin is interred behind the cross. The stained glass window is from the razed St Francis de Sales cathedral.

View of right aisle of mausoleum. Bishop Begin is interred behind the cross. The stained glass window is from the razed St Francis de Sales cathedral.

Looking back down the main aisle from the cross to the Pieta.

Looking back down the main aisle from the cross to the Pieta.

There is no admission fee to tour the cathedral but parking was a problem. We had to pay $2 every 30 minutes at a parking lot across from the Ordway Plaza and we stayed over an hour. The Cathedral charges $5 for validated parking at their underground parking garage on 21st Street. Parking is free on Sundays for those attending Mass. A couple of A/C buses stop on Grand and Harrison. And the BART 19th Street station is only six blocks away. There’s also easy access from freeways 580, 880 and 980. We took the Grand Avenue exit from 580 and drove about a mile to Harrison. See http://www.ctlcathedral.org/visit/getting-here for more detailed information on directions and parking.

The Kaiser Permanente Ordway Building from a doorway on the first floor hall where conference rooms and the Event Center are located. I worked for Kaiser for 35 years in various buildings in Oakland, Berkeley and Walnut Creek but never in this building.

The Kaiser Permanente Ordway Building from a doorway on the first floor hall where conference rooms and the Event Center are located. I worked for Kaiser for 35 years in various buildings in Oakland, Berkeley and Walnut Creek but never in this building.

The Ordway Building again -- this time from the Cathedral's vestibule.

The Ordway Building again — this time from the Cathedral’s vestibule.

The entire Cathedral complex includes a rectory / Bishop’s residence, conference rooms and a Health Center. There are also a bookstore / gift shop and a cafe in the Cathedral Plaza.

Another view of the Cathedral from the Cathedral Plaza.

Another view of the Cathedral from the Cathedral Plaza.

The Cathedral Plaza. The main entrance to the Cathedral is behind the concrete wall.

The Cathedral Plaza. The main entrance to the Cathedral is behind the concrete wall near the cross.

There is a three-day festival at the Cathedral every year celebrating the Nativity Scene This year’s Creche Festival will be held on December 12- 14th. See http://www.ctlcathedral.org/visit/creche14 for more information.

Was Gertrude Stein wrong?

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About crowcanyonjournal

I am a family man with interests in family history, photography, history and travel.
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