The Cathedral's Treasures
Stained Glass Windows
Visitors from all over the world come to the cathedral to see our unique and renowned collection of stained glass windows.
The invention of Gothic architecture in mid-12th century France was a move toward minimal structure and large windows, opening up a cathedral to more light. The craft of stained glass, colored by mineral oxides, dated to late Roman times, but the introduction of large window spaces in the Gothic era opened a whole new world of stained glass artistry and iconography. The “jeweled foundations” of the scriptural heavenly city, New Jerusalem, became the jeweled walls of Gothic cathedrals. Windows depicted heroes and sacred stories from the Bible, the lives and legends of saints, royal genealogies and angelic choirs, all ‘readable’ to the largely illiterate churchgoers.
The creation of a traditional stained glass window was/is a complex process. A preliminary sketch is followed by a full scale-cartoon, and selection of prepared glass. The glass is chosen and cut to the sizes and shapes required. Any detail or decoration required is painted on the glass with metallic paint and the pieces re-fired to bond the paint. The glass pieces are then fitted into a lead framework of “cames”, ‘h-shaped’ in cross section, and a completed panel is grouted to make it watertight. A window is made of several panels, strengthened by steel crossbars. Faceted glass, a modern technique, is made up of unpainted thick glass bricks chipped or faceted on the inner-facing edges, and assembled in reinforced cement or resin. A third technique, fused glass, involves manipulation of semi-molten glass, and the addition of glass shards or “frit” to meld with the surface.
Grace Cathedral has a rich collection of stained glass; some 68 named windows by five artists, in three techniques, covering some 7290 square feet. The 34 windows by Charles Connick Studios of Boston comprise the largest Connick collection in the west. America’s acknowledged master of medieval-style glass, Connick windows are especially known for their rich “Connick” blues. Of special note are the Gospel windows (1930) of the Chapel of Grace, and the nearby Blessed Virgin Mary and Twenty-Third Psalm windows. Connick’s Nine Choirs of Angels choir series are the tallest in America, and the two transept façade windows are the largest in the west. More modern in style, but traditionally-crafted, the colorful eastern aisle Willet Studio windows were designed by Marguerite Gaudin. Above are the Canticle of the Sun faceted glass rose window by Gabriel Loire of Chartres (1964) and faceted Human Endeavor windows including Albert Einstein and John Glenn. In the north transept is The Gift, a fused glass window by Narcissus Quagliata (2001). It depicts our Milky Way galaxy within a cloaked human silhouette. One interpretation could be, “The kingdom of heaven is within you.”
Grace Cathedral’s bell carillon celebrated its 75th birthday on Christmas Eve in 2015. The history of this collection of forty-four bronze bells is almost as striking as the bells themselves! It involves a British-born orphan who started life in the workhouse, became a San Francisco dentist and investor and lived on a dollar a day during his last years so he could realize his goal of gifting the cathedral not just the bells but the soaring Singing Tower where they reside.
The bells have rung on many historic occasions: for D-Day, VE and VJ Days, the funeral of William Randolph Hearst, and the centenary of the cable cars.
On a somber note, the carillon has marked the number of Golden Gate Bridge suicides and at important funerals, each year of the departed person’s life is tolled by the Bourdon bell. On a happy note, the bells have rung out San Francisco’s World Series and Super Bowl triumphs.
Today, you can hear the carillon ring every hour from 9 am to 6 pm.
Furnishings & Treasures
Medieval Gothic cathedrals symbolized the heavenly city, new Jerusalem, come down to earth, with the Sacrificed Lamb (Christ, the High Altar), the river of life (Baptismal Font) and healing Edenic trees (nave piers) of the Book of Revelation. Grace Cathedral is centered around these sacred liturgical furnishings and has a wide variety of other furnishings and less-often-seen treasures. As one enters the cathedral, the Baptismal Font is intentionally prominent at the center. Through the baptismal rite of blessed water individuals enter the church community. They join in the Eucharist or Holy Communion, the central rite of Christianity, ingesting the symbolic body and blood of Christ. This takes place at the High Altar at the center of the cathedral, a new (1964) position replacing the former apse altar, and allowing fuller community participation. The stark modern Altar is made of Sierra granite and coastal redwood, natural California materials. The side altar in the Chapel of Grace is a French Knight Hospitaller and Prior altar-tomb (empty) from c. 1521. It supports a detailed Flemish-made altarpiece of similar date showing the passion of Christ. In the cathedral choir is the bishop’s cathedra or official seat, near the organ console.
Along the nave walls are murals by Polish-born John De Rosen (1949-50) and Bolivian-born Antonio Sotomayor (1982-83). De Rosen’s unfinished series features world church and Anglo-Episcopal church themes. Of note are the Francis Drake and St. Francis murals. Sotomayor’s led formal Grace Church/Cathedral history series includes murals of Grace Chapel (1849) and Grace Church destruction (1906). Also of interest are the California wildflower kneelers at the sanctuary rail (1964) and the more extensive California fauna series (2000) in the choir stalls.
Other furnishings of interest include the ‘Smiling Saint Francis’ statue by Benjamin Bufano near the labyrinth, the superb Brussels tapestry of the Risen Christ from the former Crocker mansion, and the moving Aragonese crucifix (1240) near the Chapel of Grace. Robert Lenz’s Mary Magdalene icon can be compared with medieval Greek icons in the apse. Also, the Rossellino Madonna and Child plaque (1460) can be compared with paintings on the theme by a Bellini follower and Florentine Antonio del Ceraiolo. The Brotherhood Plaque near the entrance has worldwide quotations promoting peace and harmony. Bronze tower doors by Bruce Moore and wyvern dragons around the central fleche/spire are among additional sights.
Hidden treasures include chalices from Grace Church (1867) in weekly use, other historic plate, rare early printed books, brass rubbings, paintings, sculpture and relics excavated from the Crocker mansion sites in the cathedral archives.
Doors of Paradise
The front doors of Grace Cathedral, facing downtown San Francisco, are called the Doors of Paradise. They are replicas of famous doors in the Baptistry of Florence Cathedral, Italy, the work of master founder and artist Lorenzo Ghiberti. They are his masterwork (1425-1452) and are considered the high point of technical and artistic bronze work in the early Italian Renaissance. The young Michelangelo is said to have dubbed them “Porta del Paradiso,” the Doors of Paradise. Not only the technical mastery of the work, but the infusion of sculptural form and narrative flow with humanist ideals and cutting-edge science (linear perspective), all enveloped in a golden atmosphere, make these doors a true masterpiece.
The story of the cathedral replicas is bound up with the originals. For centuries the originals stood in Florence, the golden panels slowly disappearing under layers of grime. In World War II they were under the supervision of Bruno Bearzi, master founder and superintendent of the city’s art works. At first the doors were sandbagged, then taken down and hidden in a railway tunnel. Bearzi discovered the original gilding exposed by rubbing ropes. At last they were moved to the Palazzo Pitti. Partisan railroad destruction prevented their possible export to the growing collection of Nazi Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering. After the war, Bearzi cleaned the doors and made gelatin molds of the panels, from which he later cast and finished replicas. He offered the replicas for sale and one of the cathedral completion architects, Lawrence Kruse, heard of their availability. Donors enabled Grace Cathedral to purchase the replicas for the cathedral completion in 1964. The doors are opened for special services and occasions. Each door is over 16 feet (4.8m) tall and weighs over a ton. In Florence, the originals, meticulously restored, are now in the Cathedral Museum with replicas (1990) in place at the Baptistry.
The ten main panels depict the familiar Old Testament stories. Adam & Eve and Cain & Abel are the top panels, and the exquisite creation of Eve scene dominates the first panel. Abraham and Noah are at the next level. The Noah panel shows a pyramid-shaped ark from which birds, people and animals exit, the animals looking decidedly sea-sick. At left on the next level down is the Jacob & Esau panel, famous for the beauty of its spacious linear-perspective setting. The Joseph panel at right is more crowded and complex. The next level shows Moses on Mt. Sinai and Joshua entering the Promised Land. The final panels are David & Goliath at left below the battle scene, and an almost operatic meeting of Solomon & Sheba, at right. Border figures relate thematically to the main panels. The smaller busts or “tondi” include Ghiberti himself at left center, next to his son and assistant Vittorio. At the base of the doors are Vittorio’s wife and their son Bonaccorso. Frogs and crickets hide in the frame foliage.