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Grace Cathedral: San Francisco's Notre Dame

Nob Hill's Crown Jewel is Packed with Treasure.

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Grace Cathedral: San Francisco's Notre Dame
Photo by Ocean Malandra
One of the largest French Gothic-style cathedrals in the United States, Grace Cathedral occupies the very top of San Francisco's Nob Hill. Besides being a functioning Episcopal church and sponsoring a steady line-up of culutural events, the church is also an architectural and artistic marvel. Bronze Renaissance-era doors open into a soaring sanctuary that holds a redwood chapel and never-ending panels of stained glass, while the twin towers above contain 44 English bells. Even at night, when the Church doors are closed, urban pilgrims come to walk the outdoor labyrinth under the starry sky and unwind their inner selves.

Visiting Grace Cathedral

Grace Cathedral is a short, but very steep and heart-pumping, walk up from Union Square that offers awe-inspiring views in all directions.

It is also right on the California Street Cable Car Line and just a block away from the other two lines, making it easily accessible from Fisherman's Wharf as well.

  • Address: 1100 California Street, San Francisco CA 94108
  • Hours: 7am to 6pm Monday through Friday, 8am to 7pm on the Weekend.
  • Admission: The Church does ask for a donation ($10) to enter the sanctuary.
  • Parking: On-site underground parking is available (Fee).
  • Contact: (415) 749-6300 www.gracecathedral.org

Tours of Grace Cathedral

Volunteer docents lead free tours of Grace Cathedral and its grounds on a daily basis, usually at 1pm. Check the online calendar for updated tour schedules.

The non-profit San Francisco City Guides lead a free Nob Hill Walking Tour at least three times a week and Grace Cathedral is one of the focal points of the tour.

Grace Cathedral is also a stop on several guided bus tours of San Francisco including the Postcards of Historic San Francisco tour, which visits many of the city's top landmarks in a historic motor coach.

Highlights of Grace Cathedral

Besides the building itself, which is a massive steel and concrete work of architectural majesty modeled after the Renaissance churches of France, Grace Cathedral offers several interesting treasures:
  • The Ghiberti Doors: Also known as the "Gates of Paradise", these giant bronze doors depict several scenes from the Old Testament in vivid bas relief. The doors were originally a part of a Renaissance church in Florence, Italy, but were removed during World War II to protect them from bombing and then were later purchased by San Francisco philanthropist Charles D. Field to be added to Grace Cathedral for it's dedication in 1964.

  • The Interfaith AIDS Chapel: Designed by AIDS activist and artist Keith Haring, this small chapel is located immediately to the right of the entrance to the Cathedral and holds symbols of faith from several different world religions as well as a candle altar dedicated to those who have died from AIDS.

  • The Labyrinths: Walking a labyrinth has been a sacred part of mystical traditions all around the world. The two labyrinths at Grace Cathedral, one outside and one inside, are modeled on the 13th century Chartres labyrinth in France and are used for a wide variety of activities including monthly candlelight labyrinth walks and weekly yoga classes.

  • Stained Glass: Grace Cathedral contains over 7,000 square feet of stained glass, including Charles Connick's interpretation of the 23rd Psalm, which is widely considered a masterpiece of the form.

  • The Rosen Murals: Several important works by Jan Henryk de Rosen, a Polish painter who lived in exile in the United States, grace the walls of Grace Cathedral.

Concerts and Events at Grace Cathedral

From classical performances on their Aeolian Skinner Organ and by the Men and Boys Choir to sold out concerts featuring jazz, ethnic and new age musicians and bands, Grace Cathedral provides a perfect acoustic space for live music.

As a functioning Episcopal Church, Grace Cathedral also runs a full schedule of daily prayers, Eucharist services, readings and other activities, most of which are open to the general public.

The Grace Cathedral Gift Shop and Cafe

In the lower level of the Cathedral, a gift shop sells a variety of souvenirs, including Episcopal and labyrinth related jewelry, and CDs of music by the choir and visiting musicians. Right next door, a coffee cart serves coffee, tea and light snacks.

History of Grace Cathedral

The first Grace Cathedral was built in 1849 as a chapel to serve the flood of newcomers to the city during the Gold Rush. A larger church church was soon built on the site but was completely destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and fires that almost wiped out the entire city. Work began on the current cathedral in 1927 but was not completed until 1964, when the church was finally dedicated. Since it's construction the cathedral has played a prominent role in California history as it is featured in several films, including Steve McQueen's classic "Bullitt", and was used by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965 to deliver his message to a crowd of over 5,000.
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