Located on Nob Hill, San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral is a soaring neo-Gothic structure that shelters many notable works of art, including a triptych altarpiece of bronze by Keith Haring.
The first chapel in this part of San Francisco was built in the Gold Rush year of 1849 and named Grace Church. It was rebuilt twice, and the third incarnation was so grand that it came to be referred to as “Grace Cathedral.” This was destroyed in the great fire that followed the earthquake of 1906.
In the early 1920s, the railroad baron and banker Charles Crocker donated his Nob Hill property for a cathedral.
Designed in French Gothic style by Lewis Hobart, construction on the cathedral began in 1928. When it was finally completed in 1964, it was the third largest Episcopal cathedral in United States. While it may appear to be made of stone, it is in fact constructed of reinforced concrete that has been beaten to achieve a stone-like effect.
Inside, one of the cathedral’s most interesting features are its stained-glass windows, particularly those by the French Loire studios and Charles Counick, whose subjects include portraits of Thurgood Marshall, Robert Frost, and Albert Einstein.
A black-and-bronze stone sculpture of St. Francis of Assisi by Beniamino Bufano stands near the entrance.
Its 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.
The Rose Window is 25 feet of faceted glass that symbolizes the themes of the Canticle of the Sun, a famous devotional poem written by St. Francis of Assisi.
The Old Testament Children’s Doors, also known as the Hooker Doors after their benefactor, Mr. Osgood Hooker, are located at the entrance to the South Tower. The doors were designed and sculpted by Bruce Moore and cast by the Modern Art Foundry in 1964.
The two massive 12-foot doors are each adorned with four cast bronze panels and fish-shaped handles. Nine miniature abstract reliefs surround the larger reliefs of each door. The panels in the left door portray four scenes involving children from the Old Testament while the panels in the right door portray contemporary social concepts.
The cathedral also contains 24 faceted windows by Gabriel Loire of Chartres, France, including the Human Endeavor series depicting John Glenn, Thurgood Marshall, Jane Addams, Robert Frost, and Einstein. Between 1995-1998 several of the cathedral’s choir and aisle windows were restored by Reflection Studios of Emeryville, California.
The Chapel of Grace 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.
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.
Although a member of the Anglican order, Grace Cathedral considers itself a progressive church that observes both Catholic and Protestant practices. However, the church’s main goal is to be an open house of prayer for any person, from any faith, year-round.