Behold a 21st-century sanctuary, the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland. Here sacred candleholders are bead-blasted to a heavenly sheen; holy texts are illuminated in stainless steel and embedded in resin compounds in the concrete flooring; and the focal point — a massive image of Christ himself — is formed by a custom-designed computer algorithm, with precision laser-drilled perforations in dozens of aluminum panels, shaping the hallowed figure in tiny points of light.
The cathedral, on the fringe of Lake Merritt at Grand Avenue and Harrison Street, will be formally dedicated with a special private Mass on Thursday. Then a free civic and interfaith prayer service will be held at 10 a.m. Friday. There, the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir will perform, public officials and leaders from the interfaith communities will participate and Bishop Allen Vigneron and Cathedral Provost Paul Minnihan will speak to the mission and vision of the cathedral center.
The $190-million cathedral project took three years to complete. Financing has come from donations solicited specifically for the project. The cathedral will be the spiritual home for the Diocese of Oakland, which includes 500,000 Catholics in Alameda and Contra Costa counties who worship at 85 parishes. Serving the East Bay's diverse community, the diocese celebrates Mass in 17 languages.
The center replaces St. Francis de Sales, fatally damaged by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. The center includes an expansive plaza, smaller chapels, offices, a rectory, a mausoleum, a residence for Bishop Vigneron and a conference center. There will also be a free health clinic, staffed by a doctor and a nurse practitioner and drawing from a community of volunteer physicians.
Friday's event will be the first time the public is allowed inside to view the ethereal outcome of this marriage of modern technology and industrial arts. Indeed, materials that might seem cold and lifeless on their own are softened by towering louvers of Douglas fir and slivers of natural light, inspiring such descriptions of the interior as a cocoon, a woven basket, a beehive, an upside-down ark and even a womb.
On a recent day at the cathedral, some designers and artisans involved with the project were busily overseeing final installations and finishing touches. One was Lonny Israel of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the San Francisco-based firm that designed the cathedral center. (Architect Craig Hartman won the San Francisco American Institute of Architects Design Award for the project.)
The creation of the stunning 58-foot high image of Christ in Majesty on the cathedral's 90-foot Omega window was no small feat.
"We hadn't done this technique before, so we went through a long process of experimentation, doing a lot of mock-ups before we arrived at the final version," Israel said.
"It was really driven by the Bishop wanting a certain traditional image — an image of Christ borrowed from a sculpture at Chartres Cathedral in France — and by Craig Hartman, working out how we could take this historic image and make it appropriate for this modern cathedral," he said.
"My role was to take the image and develop a technology to be able to recreate it on the window," he said. "We developed a software that allowed us to write an algorithm for this. The image is based on a grid system, 300-by-300 pixels. There are 94,000 holes, varying in size. The largest are 11/4 inches and the smallest, which make up the shadows in the image, are 1/4 inch, with 100 sizes in between. And we had to do this and still leave enough material for it to remain structurally sound and not curl in on itself. It was quite a challenge."
Behind the panels, sheets of translucent glass emit a gentle glow. Some visitors last week were certain the image was a black-and-white projection. But it is indeed the product of natural light.
"This is the modern-day version of stained glass in a cathedral," said Mike Brown, director of communications for the construction project. "The tradition of stained glass began hundreds of years ago to tell stories for an illiterate population. We don't need that today."
Along the concrete walls that serve as a base for the cathedral's wood-and-glass structure are 12 sleek stainless-steel candleholders, marking points of the building's foundation and serving as theological metaphors, representing the 12 apostles — or the foundation — of the church.
Marirose Jelicich, who owns a liturgical design and consulting firm in Sacramento, was overseeing the complicated installation of some of the candle pieces last week.
"These were designed by the architect and we executed them," she said. "They are all stainless steel, all handmade with lettering of the apostles' names done with a bead-blasting method."
Jelicich also crafted the large, free-standing candle stands at the altar. "Everything has a kind of rhythm here, with similar surfaces," she said. "It gives it all a simple elegance."
Speaking of rhythm, the cathedral's organ is a world-class instrument, with 92 stops and 5,298 pipes, custom designed and built by Orgues Letourneau in Quebec. It's being installed in two phases. The full organ console and 1,509 pipes are in place for the opening. But the remaining pipes will come gradually in the next year and a half.
Reach Angela Hill at 510-208-6493 or email@example.com
What: Civic and Interfaith Prayer service at the new Catholic Cathedral of Christ the Light
When: 10 a.m. Friday
Where: 2121 Harrison St., at Grand Avenue, Oakland
Admission: Free and open to the public