How will they convert the Crystal Cathedral?

It’s a question a lot of people are pondering these days, and Terry Mattingly chatted recently with a leading church architect who’s given it some serious attention:

”It would be hard to imagine a more symbolic project than 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.”

In his essay, Alderman notes:

Liturgically, the building must be transformed from an auditorium into a church. The structure is laid out on a cruciform plan, but its principal axis lies within the short “transept” arms. The interior should be reoriented to follow the long axis to give a sense of procession. Sufficient space should be found for the sanctuary to avoid the broad, shallow appearance of a stage. The theatre-like upper balconies should be played down visually. The old choir platform and pulpit area in one transept should be screened off to form a raised choir area; below, there would be space for a daily Mass chapel, shrines, and a baptistery — the little devotional nooks and crannies that usually give so much life to a cathedral, and which have no place in a meetinghouse.

This action will also serve to create an explicitly defined nave, which in turn will lead the eye more easily toward the chancel. A large, straightforward retablo will do much to terminate the processional axis; thes pace behind could be converted into an adoration chapel or sacristy space. A baldachin in a spare modern style might also be suitable. The altar should be prominent, raised, and of a noble material. Other liturgical fittings such as clergy stalls and the bishop’s cathedra should be designed to create a high implied sill below the church’s glass walls, transforming the interior from a glass envelope to a discrete space. Further definition can be achieved by a “ceiling” of colorful translucent hangings to mediate between the exterior glass and the interior.

Alderman has some rough sketches he’s drawn up.  Check ‘em out. It’s going to be interesting — to say the least — to see what happens.


  1. It will be interesting indeed Dcn Greg and while I am sure it will be Catholic, it will hardly be traditional.

    ( and for me thats Ok- not sure if I am in the majority- I always wanted to visit this Crystal Cathedral and now even more so to see both the ‘before’ and then later the ‘after’. )

  2. I’m with you, Joe. And I LOVE Our Lady of the Angels in L.A. That puts ME in the minority, at least among those who post here!

  3. Well, I know if Bishop Tod Brown has his way, it will be beautiful, CATHOLIC and very contemporary….and it will glorify God. And I agree with Joe and Deak.

  4. I can’t get past the ugly scaffolding for the glass. It looks like a New York building getting a facelift. There’s just nothing remotely aesthetic there.

  5. Deacon Steve says:

    I love the Cathedral in LA, but then it is where I was ordained so maybe that makes me biased. I do love the tapestries, the warmth of the lighting, the acoustics, and the quiet prayerful feeling. It is also a vibrant place to worship.

  6. Paul Stokell says:

    If it is remotely possible to redesign the cathedral’s interior to match the jaw-droppingly modern style of the Co-Cathedral in Roland Park, Baltimore (or even the cathedral in Belleville, IL), it would be a minor miracle of architecture. We live in hope!

  7. I don’t know what exactly its like to sit in that church, but from the look of that picture, it doesn’t look appealing to me.

  8. I agree. But I am hopeful that artistic genius will be employed – can you picture something like colorful wire mesh sculpted into multi-demensional stations of the cross, or an eclectic mix of metal, colored glass..any element that can cover large spans which will be the new canvas for the Michelangelo’s of today?

  9. I like his suggestion of the ceiling getting colored translucent panels, or even a giant stained glass ceiling (no pun intended) that would set a world record. Maybe also large hanging chandeliers in the from of abstract looking tongues of flame rising above the congregation.

  10. “Baldachin”

    That one word makes me think this guy should be hired.

  11. Johannim says:

    Try this on for size, I worked at Crystal Cathedral in the 80′s and tried to imagine then how it would look as a Catholic place of worship. The pink marble in the front”sanctuary” area is the rarest Italian marble, it can be reworked, the long processional fountain running the length of the “nave” is not only asthetically beautiful but the sound of water when it’s on is sublime. In stead of a tabernacle hidden in the basement like most of Tod Browns churches in orange county a beautifully, tasteful CENTRAL tabernacle front and center,A Cathedral that can not only utilize the novus ordo missae but also the ancient Tridentine Mass, the Extraordinary form. get rid of the burlesque theater seats replaced with pews with kneelers a, Baptistry, Ambo, Cathedra, Lady Chapel and stations and yes if kept in keeping with the architects original design, it will be spectactular. The grounds are supurb, and monastically conducive to prayer and meditation. Maybe Tod brown finally did something right in his career

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