San Francisco Grace Cathedral

San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral Adds A New Behind-the-Scenes Tour to its Immersive Experiences

Written by BSY Editor
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Mention San Francisco and it’s likely the Golden Gate Bridge comes to mind. But this northern California city by the bay is home to several other noteworthy landmarks too, including Grace Cathedral at the top of Nob Hill. With 27.5-metre-high vaulted ceilings and 68 intricate stained-glass windows, beautiful Grace Cathedral tops many “must-see-in-San Francisco” lists. You can check it out via a Guided Highlights and Architecture Tours or join regular Sound Bath and Yoga on the Labyrinth classes. But the latest immersive experience invites you up close, up top, and behind the scenes like never before.

This tour is available twice a month for individuals or by appointment for groups of up to ten people, the fee is $30 per person. Note: no one under 12 is allowed on this tour; those 12-17 must be accompanied by an adult; sensible footwear for walking and stair climbing is required. Here’s what else you should know.

Photo tip: If you want to capture the beauty of this awe-inspiring place with your lens, mornings are the best time, when the sunlight streams through the stained-glass windows.

San Francisco Grace Cathedral

Grace Cathedral has two labyrinths, one inside and one outside, modeled after the labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral in France

Go Behind the Scenes and Climb a Tower at Grace Cathedral

The new Behind-the-Scenes Tour offers visitors a rare opportunity to go into non-public areas of the cathedral.  Led by trained docents,  the tour includes a climb (nearly 100 stairs) to the South Tower’s observation level;  a traverse across a catwalk for a vertical view, and an insider’s perspective of the iconic San Francisco location.  Other highlights include the following:

  • Head behind closed doors to glimpse hidden passageways of the Ambulatory and historic rooms storing some of the cathedral’s oldest treasures.

  • Amble through the Bishop’s Vestry with its hidden doors.

  • Peruse the restricted access of the Chapel of Grace, which showcases several historic furnishings, circa 1400s and 1500s.

  • Enjoy interior vistas of the massive cathedral from the Gallery overlooking the labyrinth and view the arches of the cathedral.

  • Visit the Columbarium and pay respects to many notable San Franciscans.

  • Climb up to the South Tower to our Observation Level for a panoramic view of the city from Nob Hill and listen to the tolling of the 44-bell Carillon in the adjacent North Tower.

  • Step through secret doors to experience up-close views of the cathedral’s breathtaking stained-glass windows from the interior height of the Clerestory Level. Witness the beauty of the Rose Window (25-foot diameter faceted glass window by Gabriel Loire of Chartres, France) and Human Endeavor windows. Gain a closer view of these twelve windows honoring 20th-century Americans noted for their major contributions to human progress including the Albert Einstein window.

Self Guided Tour

Additionally with a sightseeing admission fee, Grace Cathedral offers a self-guided tour, which covers points of interest via interactive touchscreens. This is available in five languages: English, Spanish, French, Chinese, and Korean.  The fee is $12  per person; discount admission available for seniors, youth and groups; children 12 and under free

 This self-paced overview of the cathedral includes the following points of interest:

  • Impressive French-inspired Neo-Gothic architecture

  • Stunning stained-glass windows by five different artists/studios, Connick Studios of Boston (Charles Connick), Gabriel Loire (of Chartres, France), Narcissus Quagliata, San Francisco artist Mark Adams, and the Willet Studios of Philadelphia.

  • Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ; featuring over 7,000 pipes

  • Secular and religious artwork from such artists as Ansel Adams, Keith Haring, David LaChapelle, and Lorenzo Ghiberti.

  • Three of the cathedral’s chapels, the Chapel of Nativity, the Chapel of Grace and the Interfaith AIDS Chapel.

  • Beniamino Bufano statue of Saint Francis, the namesake of San Francisco.

  • Highlights of the church’s history, art, religion, architecture, and social justice initiatives, along with murals documenting historic events including San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake and fire and the founding of the United Nations.

  • Indoor and outdoor labyrinths based on the design from Chartres Cathedral in France.

  • A children’s map designed to explore the cathedral in a treasure hunt format is also available.

  • Sightseeing hours are Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday 1 to 5 p.m.

  • Advance booking for all tours and visits available on-line: gracecathedral.org/visit
San Francisco Grace Cathedral

Everyone is welcome at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral

 

More Interesting Facts About San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral

  • Now celebrating its 175th anniversary, Grace Cathedral traces its roots to Grace Chapel, a small San Francisco parish built during California’s Gold Rush in 1849 (depicted in a mural).

  • When the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fires destroyed the Grace Church of that period, the Crocker family, an influential family in San Francisco at that time, donated their Nob Hill land to build the cathedral (two of the family’s homes perished on the plot due to the fires).

  • The construction of Grace Cathedral began in 1927, but due to the Great Depression, it was only in 1964 that the intricate structure, with all its gorgeous details, was completed. The landmark opening was celebrated with a sermon by Martin Luther King Jr. and attended by nearly 5,000 people.

  • Grace Cathedral houses extraordinary stained-glass windows, 68 named windows, covering 7,290 square feet. The windows are by five different artists (or studios) in three different window types: traditional, faceted, and fused; showing the growth of stained-glass technology over seven decades.

  • The main entrance to the cathedral is embellished by the Ghiberti Doors, also called the “Gates of Paradise.” They are a rare replica of the doors created from 1425 to 1452 by famed Italian sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti for the Florence Baptistry in Italy. The doors represent the high point of early Renaissance bronze work, and the main panels depict familiar Old Testament stories.

  • The Chapel of Grace was the first completed unit of Grace Cathedral (1930). Its design was inspired by the famed Sainte-Chapelle in Paris but is 2/3 scale. The chapel’s windows are some of the finest works of Connick Studio.

  • Regular arts and cultural initiatives and events at Grace Cathedral include: an annual Artist in Residence program (past participants include: Bobby McFerrin, Lee Mingwei, Alonzo King, and Anna Deavere Smith), a celebration of the National Day of Dance, Christmas concerts, organ recitals, the Forum discussion series, partnerships with SFJAZZ, Great American Music Hall, and other local arts organizations, Mind, Body, Spirit programs (sound baths, yoga, labyrinth walks), and more.

  • Yoga on the Labyrinth has been a practice at Grace Cathedral since 1998. Started by a congregant, over time it expanded into the bi-weekly practice for hundreds of yogis with expert instruction and live music.

San Francisco

The Golden Gate Bridge is another popular landmark in San Francisco (photo by Kimberley Lovato)

About Grace Cathedral

Grace Cathedral is an Episcopal church in San Francisco and the third-largest Episcopal cathedral in the United States. For one hundred and seventy-five years, Grace Cathedral has been a house of prayer for all people. It serves the community and its congregation with a deep commitment to social justice, community outreach, expansive musical performances, the arts, and wellness programs. Grace Cathedral is open to visitors Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m.

For more information, visit www.gracecathedral.org.

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Photos courtesy of Grace Cathedral

BSY Editor

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