The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, is a cathedral of the Roman Catholic Church in Los Angeles, California, United States. It opened in 2002 and serves as the mother church for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The cathedral is named in honor of the Virgin Mary under the patronal title of “Our Lady of the Angels”, echoing the full name of the original settlement of Los Angeles. The cathedral is widely known for enshrining the relics of Saint Vibiana and tilma piece of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Standing in the midst of downtown Los Angeles, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels serves the total Archdiocese of over 4 million Catholics. As the heart of all 288, Parish Churches and communities, it is the place where the Archbishop celebrates the major Liturgies of the year with clergy, religious and laity. The Cathedral serves as a model Church for all Parish Churches in the style and content of its liturgical celebrations.
The structure replaced the Cathedral of Saint Vibiana, which was severely damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. The building of the 11-story Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, with the contemporary construction technology, what historically took centuries to construct. The construction began on May 1999 and was completed by the spring of 2002, was accomplished in three years. This first Roman Catholic Cathedral to be erected in the western United States in recent 30 years.
Spanish architect, Professor José Rafael Moneo has designed a dynamic, contemporary Cathedral with virtually no right angles. This geometry contributes to the Cathedral’s feeling of mystery and its aura of majesty. The east orientation of churches’ apses and the cruciform tradition of a cathedral’s floor plan made the architect invert terms: entrance from the side of the altar, chapels opening not into the nave but to an outer ambulatory.
Incorporating diversified concepts and California-specific elements, the design of the church no longer follows the common Italian style. In design, art and furnishings, the Cathedral is rich in cultural diversity in a city in which Sunday Mass is celebrated in 42 different languages. The new deconstructivist and modern design, costs incurred in its construction and furnishing, and the archdiocese’s decision to build a crypt under the cathedral, was considerable controversy.
The layout was quite a typological novelty. Built with colored reinforced concrete, the cathedral does incorporate features typically associated with religious architecture. Visitors can spot elements reminiscent of architectures of olden times. The cathedral and the complex surrounding it are a public space, like missions of old, and have become a reference for L.A.’s Catholic community, a whole series of works of art has been dedicated to the immigrants. The cathedral is one example of contemporary art and multicultural integration.
The Cathedral of Saint Vibiana had served as the cathedral of the Los Angeles see since its completion in 1876. Architect Ezra Kysor designed the building. The interior was remodeled about 1895, using onyx and marble. The exterior facade of the building was changed from 1922-24 based on a Roman design.
Soon after its completion, the diocese noted it to be of inferior construction quality and also too small for Los Angeles’ rapidly growing population. In 1904, Bishop Thomas James Conaty gained permission from the Holy See to build a new cathedral to be named after Our Lady of the Angels. However, an economic downturn in 1907 put a stop to the project; a Catholic parish church was later built on the site.
In the 1940s, plans were drawn up for a new cathedral on Wilshire Boulevard that would seat 3,000 people, and in 1945 Archbishop John Joseph Cantwell announced that the Holy See approved the name “Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels”. That cathedral was never built, however, as Cantwell died in 1947 and his successor, James Francis McIntyre, decided instead that building new parish churches and schools in the expanding metropolis was a more pressing need for the archdiocese. McIntyre gained permission from donors to redirect money donated for the Cantwell cathedral fund to those needs.
The 1994 Northridge earthquake severely damaged the Cathedral of Saint Vibiana, which led the archdiocese to close the cathedral due to safety concerns. In January 1995 the archdiocese announced plans to build a new cathedral on the Saint Vibiana site, plans which necessitated the demolition of the old cathedral. This led to a lengthy legal battle between the archdiocese and preservationists, who argued that the cathedral was a city landmark and that it should be either incorporated into the new cathedral or otherwise saved. This legal battle prompted the archdiocese to look to build the cathedral on a new site.
In December 1996, the archdiocese announced it was purchasing a 5.6-acre (2.3 ha) site between Temple Street and the Hollywood Freeway from Los Angeles County at a cost of $10.85 million. The new site is ideal for a Cathedral Church. It sits on an elevated section of downtown Los Angeles, the old Bunker Hill, where it is seen by millions of people each year as they travel the busy Hollywood Freeway.
Located between the Civic Center and the Cultural Center of the city, the Cathedral embraces both and enriches the entire downtown community. Easy access to major freeways helps link the new Cathedral Church to all parish churches of the Archdiocese.
The archdiocese chose to retain the “Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels” name approved by the Vatican in the 1940s. The initially proposed budget for the project was $150 million, rising to a final cost of $189.7 million. Construction began in 1998 and was completed in September 2002. Meanwhile, the old cathedral was eventually restored by developers Tom Gilmore and Richard Weintraub, who spent around $6 million converting it into an events center and performance venue.
The architect was Pritzker Prize-winning Spaniard Rafael Moneo. In 1996 the Spanish architect, the world renowned, Pritzker Architecture Prize winning Professor José Rafael Moneo, was commissioned to design the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. He was not deterred by the 5.6 acre site that overlooked the Hollywood Freeway. Just as many European Cathedrals are built near rivers, Professor Moneo considered the freeway as Los Angeles’ river of transportation, the connection of people to each other.
Two central theological truths guided Moneo’s design. The first is that the Light of God is revealed in salvation history, especially in and through Jesus Christ. The second truth is the sense of journey that people make, alone and together, on the pilgrimage towards redemption in our lives and, ultimately, the fullness of the Kingdom of God in Heaven. Inspired by these themes of Light and Journey, the architect chose natural light to flood the Cathedral through windows filtered through Spanish alabaster. Capturing the sense of spiritual journey, the entrance to the Cathedral opens to a slightly inclined ambulatory which circles the entire interior of the Cathedral and leads to the light of the nave.
The 151 million pound Cathedral rests on 198 base isolators so that it will float up to 27 inches during a magnitude 8 point earthquake. The design is so geometrically complex that none of the concrete forms could vary by more than 1/16th of an inch. The Cathedral is built with architectural concrete in a color reminiscent of the sun-baked adobe walls of the California Missions and is designed to last 500 years.
Using elements of postmodern architecture, the church and the Cathedral Center feature a series of acute and obtuse angles while avoiding right angles. Contemporary statuary and appointments decorate the complex. Prominent of these appointments are the bronze doors and the statue called The Virgin Mary, all adorning the entrance and designed by Robert Graham.
Worshippers enter on the south side, rather than the center, of the Cathedral through a monumental set of bronze doors cast by sculptor Robert Graham. The doors are crowned by a completely contemporary statue of Our Lady of the Angels. A 50 foot concrete cross “lantern” adorns the front of the Cathedral. At night its glass- protected alabaster windows are illuminated and can be seen at a far distance.
In addition to the church, the cathedral grounds also include a mausoleum, gift shop, cafe, conference center, and clergy residences. The relics of Saint Vibiana are interred in the mausoleum, as are the remains of several past bishops, archbishops, and auxiliary bishops of Los Angeles. The size of the cathedral is 6,038 square metres (64,990 sq ft).
The interior of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels evokes many spiritual and emotional responses. It calls forth the aura of God’s presence, that this is God’s house. The ambulatory that surrounds the inside of the Cathedral invites us to the Sanctuary where we gather to offer worship through the celebration of the Eucharist. The Cathedral features the largest single use of alabaster windows in the world–some 33,500 square feet. This powerful natural light emphasizes the purity and beauty of God’s creation.
The Cathedral’s interior design captures the principle of a spiritual journey. The light and diversity of shapes draws people forward along the ambulatory and around the corner to the Baptistery and the enormous public worship space. Unlike most Cathedrals, visitors are not entering through a rear door near the last pews. Rather, visitors enter the ambulatory which circles the interior of the Cathedral. The ambulatory on a slight incline, heightening visitors‘ sense of an upward journey, past various devotional chapels that open onto the walkway, not onto the Cathedral’s worship space, allowing a more meditative environment for devotional prayer.
The journey brings people to the light of the nave and the place of Baptism, the entry into the life of Christ and His Church. The font is designed to accommodate Baptism by immersion. Four red carnelian granite fonts on each corner of the immersion pool have a continuous flow of living water, holy water for blessings, and a reminder for all of their Baptism.
The Nave and Sanctuary
The Cathedral’s 300 foot nave is the place for the gathering of the faithful. Fixed seating allows for 1,900 people and an additional 1,100 in moveable seating, for a total of 3,000 people. By its design, the nave encourages the full and active participation of all people in the Liturgy. No pillars block vision because nine steel trusses and the chapel structures on each side support the soaring, cedar wood ceiling. The dynamic effect results from Moneo’s design that avoids right angles and symmetry.
In traditional style, the Cathedral faces east, the direction of Jerusalem, the holy city, and the rising sun. Morning sun enters the Cathedral through the great alabaster windows and continues through the day, bringing a constantly changing texture of light.
Pipe Organ and Choir Spaces
To the right of the altar on the wall is the grand pipe organ, rising 85 feet and stretching 28 feet across at its widest point. It is encased in unusual and precious cherry wood, used for the pews and other structural woodwork in the Cathedral. The choir space is under the organ, positioned so as not to distract from the liturgy, but to aid the assembly in singing hymns.
The Alabaster Cross
To the left of the altar, high on the wall, is a huge architectural cross. Light pours through alabaster into the church along the slanted crossbeam. The cross is the emblem of Christ, “the Light of the world.”
The Presbyterium and Transepts
The place behind and to the left of the Altar is the Presbyterium, where the priests gather around the Bishop to concelebrate the Liturgy. It can hold 300 priests. This vast space also accommodates many risers allowing choral groups to perform. The Los Angeles Master Chorale, Philharmonic and others will perform sacred concerts in the Cathedral.
The Limestone Floor
Sixty thousand Spanish, Jana limestone stones pave the Cathedral floor in a circular pattern emanating from the Altar, providing a visual reminder that the celebration of the Eucharist is at the center of our faith. Each stone was purchased by donations from individuals and families in honor of their loved ones.
The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels has many special features, none more so than the magnificent alabaster windows. With a total of 27,000 square feet of windows, it is the largest installation of its kind in the United States, making the Cathedral not only unique, but the milky light also makes it very spiritual, blanketing the Cathedral interior with a warm, even glow.
The patterning of the new Cathedral windows is strictly one-of-a-kind. The careful positioning of the panels create giant mosaics, covering the 60 x 100 foot curtain walls on the north and south sides of the church. Smaller panel windows are hung on the northeast and west sides of the building. Light also enters the Cathedral and devotional chapels, including St. Vibiana’s Shrine, by way of large slanted shafts. These are reminiscent of the shafts used by the early Franciscans when they designed the California Missions.
The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels contains ten devotional chapels on the Plaza level and one on the Mausoleum level. Unlike most Cathedrals, the chapels do not open to the nave. Rather, they are accessible from the South and North Ambulatories which surround the main body of the Cathedral, thereby achieving a more peaceful setting for prayer. The Mass is not celebrated in these chapels.
The purpose of five of the chapels have been designated, the Blessed Sacrament, Our Lady of the Angels, Reconciliation, Art, and St. Vibiana’s. Other chapels will be decorated in the future to highlight a theme, to suit the culture of a particular ethnic group, or to give emphasis to a statue, image, painting or other religious symbol with special meaning to the community. A Cathedral is a work in progress for generations.
Blessed Sacrament Chapel
The first chapel reached from the entrance to the South Ambulatory is the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. Bronze and silver sconces, sculpted by Max DeMoss, signal the pilgrim that they are approaching the presence of the Eucharist. Each holds a four-inch candle. The grape and wheat motif, a key element of the tabernacle is repeated in the design of the sconces.
The chapel is dedicated to reserve the Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharist consecrated at Mass and taken to the sick and elderly by Eucharistic Ministers during the week. It is designed to foster devotional prayer and adoration of the Sacrament. Natural light filters through an alabaster shaft, complemented by the original chandeliers from the old St. Vibiana’s Cathedral.
The large, angular, bronze tabernacle, designed and fabricated by DeMoss, reminds us of the Jewish Ark of the Covenant, the chest that held the tables of the law, signifying the relationship between God and God’s People. Chaffs of wheat, grape leaves and clusters are sculpted on the tabernacle, representing the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. Hanging near the centrally placed tabernacle is the bronze Tabernacle Lamp, sculpted by DeMoss, which burns continuously to remind us of the presence of the consecrated Eucharist.
Our Lady of the Angels Chapel
Along the South Ambulatory is the chapel in honor of Our Lady of the Angels. The beautiful statue of Mary by Italian artist Professor Eugenio Pattarino was commissioned by Cardinal James Francis McIntyre in the 1950s. The chapel gives honor to traditional conceptions of Mary, the Mother of God.
The Reconciliation Chapel along the North Ambulatory is for private meditation and community celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the forgiveness of sins and harmony with God. Unlike traditional Catholic churches with confessionals on the sides of the nave, this chapel is separate, offering a quiet place for contemplation and prayer. It presents private rooms for confession with either screened-separated or face-to-face alternatives.
The Art Chapel
The Art Chapel along the North Ambulatory is designed to house major traveling exhibits of Christian works of art. The current exhibit is from the oldest Catholic Cathedral in the United States, the Basilica in Baltimore, built in 1809.
St. Vibiana’s Chapel and Shrine
On the Mausoleum floor is St. Vibiana’s Chapel and adjacent Shrine. The name of St. Vibiana was given by Pope Pius IX to St. Vibiana’s Cathedral in honor of the virgin and martyr, whose remains had been buried in the Roman catacombs and were preserved in the original Cathedral. She is the patron saint of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The refurbished marble altar from St. Vibiana’s Cathedral features the Lamb of God, an image of Jesus the innocent victim. The beautifully painted ceramic Stations of the Cross were designed by Professor Pattarino and are from St. Basil’s Church in Los Angeles.
From earliest Christian times, the bodies of the saints have been revered. In the nearby shrine a marble sarcophagus contains relics of the third century martyr, St. Vibiana. In 1853 her remains were found in a catacomb near the Appian Way. A marble tablet sealed her sepulcher and can be seen at the Shrine. The inscription reads, “To the soul of the innocent and pure Vibiana.” At the end of the inscription is a wreath of laurel, an emblem commonly used by early Christians as a code symbolizing martyrdom.
The bell tower is located at the north-east corner of the Cathedral complex. Built of the same architectural concrete as the Cathedral, it complements the Church while remaining autonomous. Following tradition from the Middle Ages, the Campanile stands detached from the Cathedral itself. The tower itself changes form as it rises from the ground. It is a piece of sculpture that relies on subtle transformations. The slight shifts in the planes of the campanile reflect different lights on each surface.
The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels’ Campanile is built to hold 18 bells. Four bells are in place now, two bells cast in the 1880s from St. Vibiana’s Cathedral and removed in the mid-1960’s when it was decided the wooden beams were no longer able to support them, and two bells from churches in the archdiocese. The bells swing as they are rung, as opposed to being static and being struck. As the swinging bell moves towards and away from the listener it creates a Doppler effect, much as the increase and decrease in the pitch of a train’s whistle as it passes an observer.
The Campanile rises 156 feet and is topped by a 25 foot cross. At 10 feet per story, it is over 15 stories high. It sits on four specially designed base isolators to separate ground shock from the Campanile itself during even eight point earthquakes. With few openings, the Campanile tower emanates a solidity at its highest levels. However, it is positioned as the centerpiece of the Meditation Garden to create a tranquil space against the rush of the freeway. Architect Professor Rafael Moneo has designed the upper portion of the Campanile so that different numbers and configurations of the bells are seen from each of the four directions.
The Crypt Mausoleum of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels is located on the lower level (one floor beneath the Cathedral Church) and is directly across from St. Vibiana’s Chapel. Easy access to the lower level can be gained by the stairway or elevator at the rear of the Cathedral church. The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels Mausoleum is the only structure in the world where the opportunity for interment in a site of such religious significance is available to all.
Enter through the Mausoleum doors, there are two beautiful etchings depicting guardian angels holding torches. These angels, designed and carved by Judson Studios, one of the most renowned and oldest liturgical studios in North America, remind us of the care and love we have for our departed. The beautiful Spanish limestone and stained glass windows throughout the Mausoleum, as well as the soft glow of the lighting from the Alabaster sconces, exude a welcoming place of prayer.
As proceed down the main corridor, the sixteen large stained glass windows along the north and south hallways, in addition to the nine lunettes, all of which were originally placed in St. Vibiana Cathedral. The lighted windows are of the baroque revival style and were restored by the Judson Studios.
Located at the end of the main corridor is a sacophagus and a beautiful dome directly above it. This dome was originally in place at Calvary mortuary within a private chapel. It was moved to the Cathedral in one piece and placed into a redesigned and rebuilt ceiling. The artwork of the dome was originally done on canvas panels and then carefully attached to the dome. It took the artist over a year to complete. The translation of the Latin is, “In the name of Jesus, all shall genuflect, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth”. Also shown are several angels, a papal tiara, papal awards, and a Jerusalem Cross similar to the one in the rosso laguna marble on top the sarcophagus.
All of the baroque revival style stained glass windows in the Crypt Mausoleum are from St. Vibiana’s Cathedral and were restored by The Judson Studios. The 16 large windows and 9 lunettes were crafted in the early 1920s by the Franz Mayer Company in Munich, Germany. During this time, when most people could not read, the purpose of stained glass windows, with their depiction of Gospel stories, was educational and inspirational. They are unique, museum quality examples of the most beautiful glass of the 19th Century.