It was a sunny afternoon when I strolled from my hotel high atop Nob Hill in San Francisco and made my way up the block to Grace Cathedral.
The purpose of my visit wasn’t that it was Palm Sunday, although that should probably have been the reason, but because this majestic church shares its name with my daughter (Grace, not Cathedral!).
As I strolled along the busy city street, past joggers enjoying the sunshine, a bride posing for a photographer, and vintage cable cars rattling down the road, the church’s tall steeples came into view – a vision that immediate seemed to take my breath away.
According to the church’s brochure, the cathedral is “…descended from the historic Grace Church, built in the Gold Rush year of 1849, and the imposing structure on the corner of California and Stockton streets that was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire.” Construction started in 1928 and wasn’t completed until 1964.
I quickly walked inside anxious to see what beauty was held within. Opening the door, the stillness and stunning architecture of the sanctuary was silencing. The few tourists who had happened to enter the church together took out their cameras to try and capture the moment, but not before respectfully whispering to each other and wondering if photos were allowed. After determining that exploration of the cathedral was strongly encouraged, we all headed in our own directions to various corners of the church, in search of finding what had drawn us here in the first place.
Brightly coloured stain glass windows with various religious scenes hang as art the full length of the sanctuary. A large nativity scene stands out behind a glass wall inset as a reminder of the church’s purpose. An enormous statue stands at the entrance with arms open welcoming all who enter. And the cathedral’s organ is one of the largest in the United States with nearly 7,500 pipes, some that hang on the wall behind the alter. I could imagine them bellowing out melodies to a rejoicing congregation and famed choir.
There are Ghiberti exterior doors that tell the stories of the Old and New Testaments, two labyrinths – one inside the church and one in the gardens, and a number of other things like the AIDs Interfaith Chapel, a coffee shop and a gift shop that each set this place apart.
But upon leaving the building, even despite my lack of practicing religious beliefs, one fact remained the same: this was more than a church. It was a place where all were welcomed and served as a pillar of a city just waiting to be explored.