Skip to comments.Christ the Light's towering $190 million project is the most expensive church in U.S. history
Posted on 06/03/2007 6:16:10 AM PDT by Alex Murphy
It happens throughout the day: Traffic slows near the corner of Grand Avenue and Harrison Street in Oakland as motorists glimpse Christ the Light Cathedral climbing skyward. Cell phones and cameras emerge from car windows to snap photos.
For now, its warm blond bones lay bare. Soon, glass panels will cloak the massive ark-shaped sanctuary. It will anchor a landscaped complex encompassing an open plaza, smaller chapels, offices, a rectory and residence for Bishop Allen Vigneron, gathering places, gardens and a conference center.
It is the newest cathedral in the nation, and the most expensive in American history.
The $190 million, 224,000-square-foot complex replaces St. Francis de Sales, fatally damaged by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
When it opens in fall 2008, the cathedral will bring together two parishes, St. Francis and St. Mary's, also in downtown Oakland.
The sanctuary's pivotal feature is its use of light, which architect Craig Hartman said he introduced in "the most poetic ways" possible.
"It makes the presence of God manifest," he said. "The promise is of a glowing, luminous space -- very spiritual in the way (of) a redwood forest, with light coming through the trees, diffuse and luminous. As the sun moves across the building, (the light) will constantly change."
It's not like anything Hartman has ever built, or has ever seen, and that's no accident.
The plan won Hartman the San Francisco American Institute of Architects Design Award. Hartman has been jetting between projects here and in Beijing, where he designed the U.S. Embassy building on one end of town and the 22-building Beijing Finance Street on the other.
Critics say the money could have been better spent elsewhere, but proponents say the sight of the soaring sanctuary has stirred beatitude throughout the diocese -- and helped spawn a construction renaissance along Lake Merritt.
Within a short span, developers plan to build a restaurant, a Whole Foods Market, and hundreds of business and residential units nearby.
"What Lake people have been talking about for years is finally happening," said Mike Brown, cathedral communications director.
"It's an act of hope and commitment," said Arthur Holder, dean of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. "It's a kind of positive statement about the future of the church, especially in the downtown area."
The structure is hewn from 26 110-foot curved Douglas fir ribs and 768 horizontal struts, spaced by 26 101-foot high laminated mullions. The curved supports are cemented at the root and held in place at the top by a steel ring; outward pressure exerts a third type of support.
The entire structure rests on a foundation of base isolators intended to protect the cathedral in an earthquake by giving it some flexibility of movement.
"It's really quite interesting and exciting," said Richard Kieckhefer, a professor at Northwestern University who has studied church architecture. "I am particularly interested in the treatment of light."
Only eight curved pieces remained to be set in place Wednesday. Workers prepared to pour the last bit of concrete into a mold for the main entryway. Two sets of massive double doors will open out onto Lake Merritt. By July, crews will begin cloaking the frame in hundreds of glass panels.
Each day, engineers who work in nearby buildings wander over to check the building's progress.
"They're out here every day like locusts," chuckled Brown about the curious engineers.
It may not be the most adventurous cathedral architecture in the world. That honor may belong to the Catedral de Maringa in Brazil, whose conical tower and surrounding geometric protrusions were inspired by Russian sputnik satellites.
And it certainly isn't taking the longest time to build: Construction on France's Notre Dame broke ground in 1163 and wrapped up 182 years later in 1345.
Nor is it the first cathedral to rise from the wreckage of an earthquake: A magnitude 9.5 temblor battered Chile's Valdivia Cathedral in 1960. The structure has been rebuilt 15 times since the 16th century because of damage from quakes and fires.
But Christ the Light is the priciest, and it's the cost that has ignited discord.
Estimates skyrocketed from $131 million in 2003 to $190 million in 2007.
The costs rose partly because of inflation, and partly because some figures could not be pinned down accurately before construction began, Brown said.
Parents in the San Ramon Valley had long hoped the diocese would make building a new parochial high school a priority over the cathedral.
"It might be more prudent and productive to build fewer grand cathedrals and more Catholic high schools," parishioner Bruce Bergondy of Hayward said. There are too few Catholic high schools in the suburbs, yet that's where most Catholics live, he said.
But proponents point out that the cathedral was financed through donations solicited specifically for the project.
None of the financing has come from the $350 million the Oakland Diocese spends annually on social services, schools or church administration, according to the church's finance committee.
Arguments over construction costs also wracked the Los Angeles Diocese when it spent $180 million to replace its quake-damaged Cathedral of Saint Vibiana. Critics dubbed its replacement the "Taj Mahony," believing it to represent the oversized dreams of Cardinal Roger Mahony.
Now, motor coaches line up outside the boxy, auburn Our Lady of the Angels to see the cathedral where actor Gregory Peck's remains are interred.
In Los Angeles, members of the Catholic Workers movement protested the investment in bricks and mortar when services for the poor were so desperately needed.
The director of Catholic Workers of Oakland, on the other hand, was persuaded by Pulitzer Prize winning architectural critic Allen Tempko to support the cathedral, despite its cost.
The pair were among 143 people involved in early planning meetings.
"I had my opportunity to voice my hesitation back in the pre-planning process," said Margaret Roncolli. "Allen Tempko kind of changed my mind on the thing. Even (Catholic Workers founder) Dorothy Day said even the poor need beautiful places to worship."
In 1821, the Baltimore Cathedral became the first major religious building constructed in America after the adoption of the Constitution. Its first major renovation was just completed.
In the past decade, dioceses in Seattle, San Jose, Rochester, N.Y.; Kalamazoo, Mich.; and other cities have undertaken extensive cathedral renovations.
But the building of a new cathedral is rare -- so rare that two art historians teamed up to teach a class in cathedral architecture at the Graduate Theological Union focusing on Christ the Light.
"I think it's wonderful," said Mia Mochizuki, one of the teachers. "The design combines the ethereal and the grounded."
“Hey Vlad, you are welcome to join the Sunday School Bible Study group each Saturday evening and Sunday to study His word and to worship him. On the Internet, btw, not a building.”
Thanks for the offer, but I alreadt have Saturday and Sunday devotions and study to attend to. I do appreciate the offer, however.
“I stand by my statement of Mr Murphy. This exchange proves it. Just check his postings and check mine.”
No, I am more interested in your postings with me.
“I evidently was wrong when I first said that your disagreement was in good spirit.”
You didn’t say that to me. You said it to someone else.
“Your true spirit is beginning to show towards my Born-Again worship of my Lord and Savior.”
Wrong. I have made no comment about, and have really no interest in, your worship. My comments have been entirely focused on your strange either/or philosophy regarding the building of cathedrals and care of souls.
“I was wrong. I thought you had a rational discussion.”
I always do. You’re the one who is not.
“You can respond if you wish, (so you can have the last word) but I’m through with this.”
“Again, you are welcome to join the Bible Study caucus if you like.”
Thanks once more.
You are correct, I stand corrected.
I like it. I also like the Crystal Cathedral although walking into it the first time was a bit disorienting. That is truly a major architectual achievement. Dazzling.
It expresses light and openness.
The bible didn’t say we have to build Gothic. (Watch someone claim it’s in Leviticus...)
Anything is better than the 70’s and 80’s galvanzied barns.
Looks like something from Dubai.
Now we know what Jonah felt like in the whale.
Our Cathedral is oriented toward Lake Merritt, which flows ultimately into the Pacific.
Jesus is returning from Lake Merritt. Spread the word.
This suggests the Word flowing into the Christian community of the East Bay and through us into one that is larger and more interconnected than ever before.We reach out to our neighbors around the Pacific Rim, just as the Pacific Rim has sent us so many of her priests, religious, and faithful. The Cathedral position also acknowledges the ocean, a primal element of God's creation and an obviously important one for those of us in the Bay Area.
And it's all about us, isn't it?
But of course this doesn’t qualify as a “megachurch.”
Quite a monument. But is it a monument to the glory of God? I could not personally in good conscience contribute to or authorize such conspicuous consumption.
There is a Murphy’s Law that goes like this:
The fundamental solvency of an organization is inversely proportional to the depth of the carpeting in the foyer.
There is no justification for spending that kind of money on a church sanctuary!
This is exactly my point from my earlier post.
Koelner Dom took longer. From Wikipedia: "Construction of the Gothic church began in 1248 and took, with interruptions, until 1880 to complete a period of over six hundred years."