Thursday, November 15, 2012


Bob and I have visited cathedrals all over the world. We've been awed by the architecture of buildings that have stood for 600 or 700 years, that took centuries to build, that survived (and sometimes didn't survive) battles and religious change, and that are filled with showy gold-leafed icons and paintings by the great masters.

We had quite a different experience last weekend in Los Angeles when we visited perhaps the most modern and newest cathedral we have seen so far.  When the previous cathedral for Los Angeles, the St. Vibiana Cathedral, was severely damaged in the Northridge earthquake of 1994, the Catholic Archdiocese approved construction of a replacement cathedral next to the Hollywood Freeway. They initially budgeted  $150 million, but so many donations came in that they were able to make the cathedral more elaborate and more spectacular than originally planned. Construction began in 1998, and the cathedral took only four years to complete.  That's just a bit faster than most of the European cathedrals we've visited.

The final cost of $190 million (including $2.5 million that was donated for the fountain out front) was criticized by Catholics and non-Catholics alike, as was the post-modern architecture that deviates from the mission style commonly used for Catholic churches in California.
Freeway view
Street view
On approach. Cute little boys in shiny silver suits watch the bride and groom photo session

The carillon, a nod to mission-style architecture, has 36 bells that ring hymns throughout the day
The adobe-colored Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels (aka Mary) is dramatically placed overlooking the 101 freeway. Even more dramatic, however, is the futuristic Ramon C. Cortines arts-oriented public high school that is directly across the freeway, built in 2008 at a cost of $232 million. As you can imagine, that was not a popular use of funds in a day and age of deep budget cuts for education. If someone wants to complain about cost, that high school seems like a better target than a church built with private funds and serving four million parishioners.
View from the Cathedral courtyard
View from the freeway: Cathedral on left, high school on right
But I digress.

The Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels is twelve stories high and can accommodate 3,000 worshipers. It is the second largest cathedral in the United States, second only to St. Patrick's in New York City (although the main sanctuary is intentionally one foot longer than St. Patrick's). Both inside and out, the angles are acute and obtuse rather than right angles.
A post-modern Virgin Mary welcomes visitors

Two 25-ton bronze slabs on either side of the entrance are reminiscent of the heavy sculpted doors on European cathedrals:

The interior is spacious (58,000 square feet) and very modern. The windows are very thin alabaster, and it is said that there is more alabaster in this building than in any other in the United States. The effect is a pale radiance that is very different from traditional stained glass.

The light fixtures (which cost $150,000 each) have a Trinity three-light structure with a bronze trumpet-looking post in the center that is actually a speaker.  Brilliant.
 Rows and rows of satiny wood pews cost $50,000 a piece.
The organ has 6,019 pipes. (Compare that to the 11,693 pipes in the organ in the Mormon Tabernacle on Temple Square.) When we walked in, a soloist was rehearsing "Ave Maria" with the organ. The tones were rich and the acoustics were amazing.
The large cross behind the altar is highlighted by a very unusual, thinly-sliced alabaster window.  This is the cross that can be seen from the freeway.
The bishop's chair hardly seemed worth the $1 million budgeted for it, but I have since learned a little more about its design from this website:

          "Unlike the Cathedras [Latin for chair] in many Cathedrals that are very large, but not to human scale, Jefferson Tortorelli designed a chair that fits a human, but has the presence needed to fit the Cathedral. He built a basic chair, then extended the two ebony arms outward as if welcoming the assembly. He comments, 'If you looked to a friend, or if your children are coming to you, a lot of times you will just kind of open your arms, spread them out to embrace.'
           "The back of the chair is composed of linked crosses which float in the framework. Each cross is made from different woods from around the world, olive wood from Israel, carob wood from Lebanon, coca bola from Central America, ebony from Africa, holly from the United States, lacewood from Australia and buena burro from Thailand. The woods symbolize the various communities and ethnic backgrounds that compose the Los Angeles community."

Those crosses are locked together like puzzle pieces.  There is no hardware connecting them.  It really is a work of art.

Here and there throughout the cathedral are twelve very unique bronze and silver angels that function as candle holders and represent the twelve tribes of Israel:

My favorite feature of the interior is the 25 fresco-like woven tapestries of the Communion of Saints designed by John Nava. (You can read more about Nava and how the tapestries were created here.)

I found these works of art very moving. Each tapestry includes five to eight canonized saints from varying eras and areas of the world all mixed together. For example, Mother Teresa is in a group that includes St. Bruno and St. Anselm of the 11th century, Christ's apostle Bartholomew, and John XXIII--the Pope from 1958 to 1963.

A total of 135 figures are represented, all reverently facing the this dramatic, expressionistic crucifix at the front of the nave:

I've included pictures of a few of the tapestries. Click on the photo to see an enlargement:
Left: Peter with his upside-down cross is the second figure.  Right: John the Baptist in his animal skin clothing is second from the right.

 Left: St. Francis of Assisi on the right end.  Right: The apostle Andrew in the center.

 Left: The apostle Mark on the left end.  Right: Beautiful Agnes, second from the left, stands between Andrew Kim Taegon (the first Korean-born Catholic priest) and the Venerable Bede of the 8th century.
Occasionally, unnamed modern children are included in the mix.  Note the two boys on the left in the first tapestry and the two girls on the right in the second (standing next to St. Stephen of Hungary, whose image we saw all over Budapest).

Left: "Mary of Jesus Crucified" in the center.  Right: The apostle James on the left end and Joan of Arc with her boyish haircut on the right end.

Left: Martha, the first figure on the left.  Right: Anthony of Padua on the far right (for my friend who just returned from Padua).

Juan Diego, the first figure on the left, the poor 16th century peasant who became the first indigenous American saint in 2002.

I think this final tapestry is my most favorite. I love the tender juxtaposition of the three saints (Francis Xavier, John Chrysostom, and Frances X. Cabrini) with the four teenage boys of the varying ethnicities served by this cathedral.

The bare and sandaled feet of the saints next to the boys' tennis shoes is also a wonderful image:

In the very back of the nave is the baptismal font. A wedding party was gathering around it and blocking my view, so I borrowed this picture:
Four triangular receptacles hold baptismal water, with a shallow pool in the center. Just behind the font is a tapestry of John baptizing Jesus:

We found a few other works of art in the passageways and small chapels surrounding the nave, including this reproduction of The Prodigal Son, my favorite of Rembrandt's works and a painting I have hanging in my own home:

This statue of Joseph the Carpenter and his son Jesus was just installed in February of 2011.  Joseph is Cardinal Mahoney's patron saint, and the statue commemorates Cardinal Mahoney's 25 years of service to the Los Angeles diocese.  A news story about the new sculpture reports: "The life-sized bronze sculpture . . . not only depicts the loving relationship between Joseph and Jesus, but also the challenges of fatherhood and of being a Christian." The artist, Christopher Slatoff, says that Joseph is shown putting aside his work to care for his son, "not from some genetic obligation, but by choice and love."  The work is entitled Adoption.
Other beautiful works of art in the cathedral include this gorgeous 500-year-old retablo from Spain.  It stands twenty feet tall and was made to stand behind the altar of a church.
The Neophyte, a dramatic painting by Frenchman Paul Gustav DorĂ© (1880), was donated to the city of Los Angeles in 1972 by Dr. Armand Hammer and eventually given to the cathedral.
A majolica (tin-glazed ceramic) statue of Mary by Florentine artist Eugenio Pattarino, commissioned by Cardinal McIntyre in 1961, stands in one of the niches. (Gotta love that unique crown.)
I'm guessing this display is leftover from La Dia de los Muertos, November 1:
The vestments worn by Pope John Paul II during masses he celebrated at Dodger Stadium while visiting Los Angeles in 1987 are on display:

This mural-like painting shows the Catholic church introducing Christianity to California.
The grounds of the cathedral also have some very interesting art.  A string of angels is etched onto the windows overlooking the 101 Freeway and can be enjoyed by those who are usually stopped in heavy traffic below.
Looking straight through to the bank on the other side of the freeway:
Looking down on the unusually quiet Saturday traffic on the 101 Freeway:

These words are etched in the glass. That's the our lovely, smog-free November California sky seen through the glass.
The Shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe on the left, and a peaceful walkway on the right:

I searched in vain for a plaque that might give me some information on this sculpture. It appears to be a woman hugging an empty walnut shell or a cored onion.  If anyone has a better explanation, please share it with me.

The 15-story freestanding campanile or bell tower rises 156 feet and is topped by a 25-foot-tall cross, barely visible in the picture on the right.  This tower is supposed to be earthquake safe, even in 8.0 temblors.

Reverence for God was a clear part of the artistic focus evident in every aspect of this very unique cathedral.  Overall, I loved our visit.

My one regret is that we did not go into the crypt.  I have since learned that one of my favorite actors, Gregory Peck, is interred there.  Oh well; maybe next time.


  1. I must say, I find that high school amazing. How in the world did they manage to spend that much without a complete freakout meltdown and riot from taxpayers??

    It's hard to get too excited viewing that church from the outside, but the inside is quite wonderful with lovely art.

  2. I love, love, love this post. Very comprehensive.

  3. I loved this church, so glad to get the scoop that St. Anthony is there from Padua. Now his tomb is something else--so over the top as compared to the elegant simplicity present here. Loved the tour!

  4. Your page is very complete and was useful for the information I was looking for (even more than the actual website of the Cathedral). One point: I believe the name of the author of "Adoption" is Christopher Slatoff , not Joseph Slatoff. See Thank you.

    1. Correction made. Thank you, Sergio. I think it was just a typo as I am talking about Joseph in the same sentence. I'm glad this was helpful to you.