Because it was Sunday morning in Oakland and opened, Ruth, my brother, and I stopped in to see the newish Cathedral of Christ the Light. It’s in downtown Oakland at 2121 Harrison Street across the street from a branch of Lake Merritt, a locally popular gathering place. The city of Oakland has benefited from the high cost of living and social ills across the bay in San Francisco. Gentrification has improved living in a city that has a rough reputation. There are many Julia Morgan houses near downtown awaiting sale and rehabilitation and attractive suburbs beyond the core city that are attracting families who can no longer afford to live in San Francisco.
Ruth & I stayed in a very quiet and desirable Hampton Inn in downtown Oakland with only a couple of disadvantages including the use of a parking garage about 3 blocks from it and walking the still mean streets to it. This accommodation was near Oakland’s colorful Chinatown. The cathedral was several blocks from the hotel in a renewal area with many businesses and a Whole Foods nearby.
Christ the Light is a curious mix of modernity and traditional cathedral elements. Overall, its design is most often compared to a ship or a fish. It’s certainly an impressive structure and because it was Sunday morning, we had no trouble parking right in front for our temporary look-see with constant stroller and bike activity across the street around the lake. Weekday viewing and parking might present a problem, but it’s worth the hassle.
This grand edifice was clearly meant to revitalize Oakland, which it does. Some strive to compare it to the cathedral in downtown LA. This is understandable since they are similar and of bold design. In some ways this Oakland house of worship is a worthwhile companion to Los Angeles’ Our Lady of the Angels that is on many tourist agendas that include the Disney Concert Hall and other central city attractions. Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill, more commonly called SOM, is the design company responsible for its construction. Christ the Light replaces an older cathedral damaged by an earthquake in 1989. It opened in 2008 and contains a lot of glass and Douglas fir.
Upon entering, the object that immediately catches the eye is a 58 foot rendering of the image of Christ above the altar encased in what is called The Omega Window. Looking like a modern hologram, it is modeled on an image in France’s Chartres Cathedral thus combining traditional and current design elements. Above everyone’s head, this image is a stunning achievement topped by a ceiling window called an oculus. Another traditional design element is the organ. Its pipes are on either side of a traditional altar. Its design elements seem standard for a cathedral of this size, but it all works! The oculus is framed by beams of Douglas fir that are up to 110 feet tall. The design uses 768 louvers cleverly angled to admit natural light. The cathedral’s walls are constructed of more than 1000 glass panels that spread light across the interior. The Oculus is covered by aluminum panels that both hide and create light. The pews that seat 1,350 in normal times are traditional as is the bear sculpture near the altar. This is an important California symbol. Downstairs are many sculptures and stained glass windows that look like they belong in far more traditional churches. See it to understand this grand cathedral design.