Grace Cathedral Architecture
The cathedral nestled on top of Nob Hill.
Grace Cathedral is the third largest Episcopal Cathedral in the nation, after sister cathedrals in New York and Washington D.C. All evoke the Gothic style, chosen to express the Anglican roots of the Episcopal tradition and the piety and spiritual focus of the medieval church.
The Gothic revival was energized by the Oxford Movement, a 19th century renewal of Anglicanism that found final expression in American Episcopal cathedrals. In a nod to Mrs. W. H. Crocker’s love of French art, Grace Cathedral architect Lewis Hobart chose French Gothic. The cruciform plan, twin towers, central fleche and polygonal apse are all French in origin, with the cathedrals of Amiens, Paris (Notre Dame), Beauvais and Chartres being principal influences. Inside, the wide nave, narrow piers, and absent triforium are Spanish (Aragonese) Gothic features, seen especially in Palma (Majorca) cathedral. The nave clerestory is typically English. The Chapel of Grace was inspired by the famed Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. Hobart skillfully blended these varied strands into a convincing whole. The Cathedral is 329 feet (100m) long, 162 (49m) feet wide at the transepts and the nave vaulting rises to 91 feet (27m).
The use of raw concrete and steel for the Grace Cathedral fabric is daring and unusual, but the 1906 earthquake made structural strength necessary. Similarly concrete cathedrals are found in New Zealand, Colombia, Ecuador etc. along the seismically-active Pacific “Ring of Fire.” The first part of the cathedral was built of riveted steel lattices, beams and rebar (1927-1943), and the last portion of clustered steel rebar and beams (1960-1964). In both cases, wooden and plaster forms were built up around the steel framework and semi-liquid concrete poured into them, accumulating pour by pour, to the rooftops. Prefabricated cast stone was used for some decorative detail and Guastavino acoustic tile for the vaulting. Much interior vaulting, and cast stone wall finish, has yet to be installed. Roof work has replaced the old lead outer roofs with durable lead-coated copper. The cathedral exterior was water-proofed with a siloxane application in 2000.
Dimensions and Statistics
Grace Cathedral is 329 feet (100m) long, and 162 feet (49m) wide at the transepts. The façade towers rise 174 feet (53m) from street level (154 feet (47m) from entry floor level). The fleche, or central spire, rises 117 feet (35m) from the roof ridge to the top of the cross, which is 247 feet (75m) above adjacent street level. On the interior, the three-bay choir/five-unit apse is 87 feet (26m) long, 47 feet (14m) wide, and 88 feet (27m) tall. The sanctuary/crossing is 38 feet (11m) long by 47 feet (14m) wide. The seven-bay nave is 169 feet (51m) long, 46 feet (14m) wide and 91 feet (28m) tall (average height), and the floor rises one foot (.38m) from east to west. Each bay of the six-bay nave aisles is 24 feet (7m) long by 18 feet (5m) wide and 54 feet (16m) tall (average height).
Larger and equivalent American Gothic-style cathedrals are the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York, NY (601 feet (183m) long), the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, Washington D. C. (518 feet (157m) long), Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, NY (341 feet (104m) main body length), the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Boston, MA (295 feet (90m) main body length) and the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Newark, NJ (291 feet (88m) main body length).
The French and Spanish inspirations for Grace Cathedral are on a larger scale. Amiens Cathedral, France, is 45% longer (exterior) and 49% taller (nave vaulting) than Grace Cathedral. Paris (Notre Dame) Cathedral, France, is 28% longer and 13% taller. Palma Cathedral, Majorca, Spain, is 21% longer and 58% taller.
- Grace Cathedral (center of high altar) is located at 37.791˚NLat, 122.413˚WLon.
- The cathedral faces 9˚15’south of due west, parallel to adjacent California Street.
- The sanctuary floor, surrounding the High Altar steps, is at 299.5 feet (91.4m) above mean sea level.
- Grace Cathedral’s ‘footprint’ covers 36,132 sq. feet (3,357 sq. m.).
- The cathedral was built in four campaigns; 1928-30, 1931-34, 1939-43, 1961-64.
- Grace Cathedral (together with the bordering Crocker walls and Diocesan House) became San Francisco City Landmark #170 in 1984.
For further information, contact the cathedral archivist, Michael Lampen, at [email protected].