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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : features : features June 28, 2016

2/23/2012 1:07:00 PM
Transforming the Crystal Cathedral

Terry Mattingly
Religion Columnist

It doesn’t take a doctorate in church architecture to know why every pew in every Catholic cathedral allows worshippers to gaze toward the altar.

What happens on the altar during Mass is the heart of Catholic faith.

Meanwhile, architects that design Protestant churches make sure preachers have everyone’s attention when they rise to preach. What happens in those pulpits is what matters for most Protestants.

The Rev. Robert H. Schuller, on the other hand, asked the legendary architect Philip Johnson to design the world’s first great church specifically built for use as a studio for televised worship.

Leaders of the Diocese of Orange will have to meditate on that fact as they work to turn the Crystal Cathedral into a spiritual home for Orange County’s nearly 1.3 million Catholics, according to an architect who has published a sketch of possible changes in that structure. The diocese recently completed its $57.5 million purchase of the property.

“It would be hard to imagine a more symbolic project that this one,” said Matthew Alderman, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame’s classical design program and an architect at Cram and Ferguson Architects in Concord, Mass. The firm specializes in traditional church designs.

“What we are going to see at the Crystal Cathedral is sort of like a collision between the therapeutic American Protestantism of the television age with all of the symbolism, art and ancient traditions of the Catholic Church and its worship.” At this point, the Diocese of Orange has not taken formal steps to hire an architect and the Crystal Cathedral congregation has three years to find a new home. Acting on his own, Alderman sketched some possible changes to illustrate a piece for an Anglican periodical called The Living Church.

It would be impossible, he noted, to retroactively convert this modernist classic -- a structure so open that it seems to have no true walls or interior space -- into what most people would consider a normal, conventional cathedral.

“While traditional styles can often be mixed within historic interiors,” wrote Alderman, “the modernist movement was such a destructive act of self-exile that great care must be used when adding traditional elements to a dated modernist interior. Plopping down a Gothic altarpiece into a 1968 ecclesiastical wigwam usually just makes the wigwam look worse.”

The crucial decision, according to Alderman, is whether to turn the direction of the seating so the faithful will face down the 415-foot length of the sanctuary toward a newly created altar platform built inside the existing glass building. This would create a traditional nave with a center aisle for processions toward the altar and the tabernacle containing the Blessed Sacrament. Currently, the church resembles a long amphitheater in which worshippers face a stage and giant video screen in the middle of the cruciform building, which is 207 feet wide.

“Strong processional movements from the back of the church to the altar are practical, but also theological,” said Alderman, reached by phone. “We are the people of God and we are traveling somewhere -- together. We are moving toward Christ and the altar. That’s the focus.”

The local Catholic leadership has already concluded that the Crystal Cathedral is “not a highly liturgical space in the traditional sense. Yet, the Diocese of Orange considers it a ‘clean (palate),’” wrote Msgr. Arthur Holquin, in a paper entitled “Domus Ecclesiae (House of the Church).”

“While renovations are called for, not much deconstruction would be required and the iconic personality of the original architecture and design would, for the most part, be retained.” In particular, he added, the “quality of light and its allegory is consistent with the enlightenment of Christ.”

Bishop Tod Brown recently challenged Catholics nationwide to help name the new cathedral -- proposing “Christological” names linked to the person and work of Jesus. As of Tuesday morning, more than 3,500 entries had been submitted.

Alderman has already turned in his vote, proposing what he believes is a logical name for a cathedral containing 10,000 windows of silver-tinted glass -- The Cathedral of the Transfiguration.

“The Crystal Cathedral is all about light and the blue sky being everywhere you look,” he said. “It’s the perfect place for dramatic images of Christ being transfigured and illuminated in divine light. ... You could also say this sanctuary is about to be transfigured, becoming a real cathedral.”

(Terry Mattingly is the director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and leads the project to study religion and the news.)

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Reader Comments

Posted: Sunday, February 26, 2012
Article comment by: Ann Rant

That is only $44.23 per Orange County Catholic. Such a deal...

Posted: Sunday, February 26, 2012
Article comment by: Envino Veritas

What happened to that Schuller guy? Did he overfspend? Upside down in his mortgage? Short-sell to the Catholics?

Anyhow, my submissions:

Our Lady of The Flying Trapeze

Nuestra Senora de los Milagros Dudosos
(our lady of dubious miracles, for the spanish challenged)

St. Lloyd of the Bridges
(The Lloyd our god)

Posted: Sunday, February 26, 2012
Article comment by: Old Time Resident

I so agree with the previous people commenting here. This is just further evidence of how disgustingly far religion has gone from its purpose. Probably 90% of money collected maintains the lavish lifestyles of the "rich and religious", while 10% to helping needy.

Posted: Sunday, February 26, 2012
Article comment by: Gaia Gurl

God, INC.

Posted: Saturday, February 25, 2012
Article comment by: So good to see...

...that I'm not the only one morally offended by how today's Christian Fundamentalism is, for the most part, turning a blind eye to the essence of Christ's teachings. Mr. Mattingly, no disrespect to you sir, but do you even realize how bizarre the values reflected in your article are, in contrast with the actual hardcore realities of poverty, pain and ill health so many are living in? I couldn't help but feel like I was reading the words of someone living on a different planet, about an organization that does, as well. And I know so many share that orientation!

"What happens on the altar during Mass is the heart of Catholic faith." How incredibly sad and, I'm sorry, but perverse, IMHO. We can only pray that one day, love, compassion and service to our fellow man will become the heart of ALL faiths...

Posted: Saturday, February 25, 2012
Article comment by: The Name Of the Rose

"Did Christ or did he not own the clothes he wore?'" Amazing how religion has gone from pondering if Christ even owned the clothes he wore due to taking a vow of poverty to the church building monstrosities like the Crystal Cathedral.

What would Jesus do? Build a white elephant church or serve the poor? You decide.

Posted: Saturday, February 25, 2012
Article comment by: Slater Slater

Better yet tear it down,sell the glass,recycle the steel,sell the bronze etc.Then take the
money and build a homeless shelter on the land.
Name it the house of the Lord,pay no taxes
and finally spend the billions the church has
hoarded away and do the unthinkable
Help someone.
Perhaps Rome will melt the gold columns at
the Vatican and buy california.Oh the opportunities to help and not be so greedy.
I can hear ya now,Blasphfamy
Then get on your knees on the pavement in
front of the homeless center and thank the lord
you can do more than be on tv.If the parking lot can hold all those cars just imagine how many more sinners could pray.Way 2 old school huh

Posted: Thursday, February 23, 2012
Article comment by: I've got one!

I have not only a great new name for this church (Christological? Seriously?), but a brand-new focus for it too. It's the We've-Finally-Decided-to-Teach-Jesus's-True-Message church! Letting go of the empty illusion of surface beauty, appearance & architecture, "transfiguring" it by redirecting its funds to tending the needy amongst our fellow human beings, as He did! Can I get an "Amen!"? No? Yes?

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