“Crystal Cathedral” becomes “Christ Cathedral”

And here’s a floor plan of it – you can click on items to see a video and read more about it. Here is the plan of the whole campus.

As the article in the diocesan paper says,

When it is finally consecrated as Christ Cathedral, the scale of the structure will not change—big, after all, is still big—but in its transformation into a Catholic worship space, the cathedral will embrace worshippers and other visitors, regardless of their faith, with a welcoming intimacy that belies its size. Design elements both inside and out will point to the central reality of the Catholic faith: the Eucharist and the table of the Lord, around which everything and everyone is gathered.



  1. This is truly marvelous. It stands in strong contrast to other recent cathedrals in the east (think the concept for Raleigh). It is great that this cathedral will continue the Catholic tradition of taking the best forms and features from contemporary art and architecture and using them to produce authentic Christian worship.

  2. Incredibly stunning! The altar with its cross and baldachin are very striking. I think that the antiphonal seating is very effective in this space as well. While initially, some where concerned about wrecking one of Philip Johnson’s masterpieces, in many ways, I think that this renovation only strengthens what was originally there. I can’t wait to see the completed space!

  3. I guess I don’t “get it”. The central altar does decrease the distance between pew and sanctuary, I suppose. But there are only two resulting options: priest with his back to half the congregation, or priest facing none of the congregation but with both halves on his sides. It seems so odd to have the altar dividing the nave in half. 360 degree seating would at least allow the celebrant to face a portion of the congregation at all times. On the other hand, I used to work at a 360 degree seating church, and it was always funny to watch a visiting priest process in and try to figure out which side of the altar to stand on. There was no really good answer to that question. And the person in the ambo had his/her back to a quarter of the congregation at all times. Some priests would try to just give a homily from the sanctuary, turning around in circles constantly. It’s just a difficult and disorienting design to work with. Had it not been so expensive, the parish in question would have liked to change the church to a half-shell configuration.

      1. @Alexander Larkin – comment #7:
        My understanding is that St. Peter’s was originally designed by Michaelangelo in the form of a Greek cross. This would have made it even more of a “problem” if that is what a person considers people on four sides. (I have no problem with that design).

    1. @Jared Ostermann – comment #3:
      More important than the priest being able to see the people at all times, the arrangement allows the people to see the priest/”action” at all times.
      Eye-contact is easily made from both the chair and ambo, as appropriate and necessary; such contact isn’t essential at the altar, in that the priest isn’t addressing the assembly. Is the altar really dividing the nave in half… or uniting both “sides?” A new interpretation of the age-old question about the glass being half empty… or is it half full?

      1. @Kevin Vogt – comment #13:
        Or maybe have the altar rotate during mass so everyone has a glimpse of the celebrant facing them during the canon? On another note, I hope to see some color introduced e.g. altar and ambo hangings, or a striking series of suspended lamps.

    2. @Jared Ostermann – comment #3:
      Others have responded to this well.

      But I love antiphonal seating.

      My parish church was built to worship in halves from 1964. The priest facing the assembly is irrelevant, as long as the action on and at the altar is well visible.

  4. Another point worth discussing is the “three main foci on an axis” layout with the Assembly’s seating in choirs. As far as I can tell, this is the first major church to use this layout. (Save the Giles redo of the Philly Cathedral because it is one layout they use but is not built into the structure.)

  5. I believe Vosko had some large parishes in “God’s House is Our House.” I was speaking from a prominence stand point though.

  6. There is much to like in this design especially how it blends tradition and innovation. It’s very similar to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Parramata, Australia except that the altar is suitably elevated. The prominent reliquary under the altar is also a nice touch.

  7. Mostly, I think it’s lovely. Some of the videos make me think they were over-explaining some things that aren’t really accurate.

    I’m confused by the doors. Ceremonial? Pilgrims? Bishops? I’ve never been to the Crystal Cathedral, so maybe they have to just work with what they have.

    Finally: their Sunday Mass schedule is amazing! Almost every 90 minutes from 6:30 am until 7 pm in 3 languages!

  8. Fascinating that, with one of the biggest church organs in the world, there is no mention of music, no place assigned for the choir, nor for the cantor/song leader… Or is that the choir space (not marked) behind the ambo, with organ console near at hand, beside the ambo? (The previous position of the organ console is where the tabernacle is now going to be….) If that is the console (too small to see on my laptop), it probably needs to turn 90 degrees to the left so that the organist can relate to a large portion of the assembly (including presider at cathedra and altar) on her/his right and to the choir on his left. But no one has thought about how the organist will relate to cantor/song leader (as opposed to the psalmist at the ambo) since no place has apparently been assigned for that ministry.

  9. Paul Inwood… From what i saw and what I have seen being discussed, the choir and organ console will be up in the gallery. Someone commented on how Fred Swann liked that location as you TRUELY get a sense of the organ… Whereas previous location (of some of) the organ was a few stories above the choir.

  10. Watch the video about the organ, it explains how the musicians will be located in the opposite gallery. It sounds like they will actually have more room there than in the previous arrangement.

  11. I’ve heard it explained that the Crystal Cathedral was designed primarily as a television studio for the Hour of Power television broadcast. I’m sure it was an amazing experience to attend worship there, but the vast majority of their flock experienced this church on television. I think the architects and consultants have done an outstanding job changing it from a big-stage production studio to a liturgical house of worship.

  12. In the words of Tina Fey’s character from the acclaimed sitcom “30 Rock”, I can only say: “I want to go to there!”

    Wow…can’t wait to see this place come alive as a house of Catholic worship!

    It’s interesting to see the antiphonal arrangement (of which I’m a huge proponent) being used in such a prominent house of worship. Antiphonal seating arrangements seem to be less and less frequent these days (or maybe it’s just around here?), and that’s unfortunate. Both for the centrality of the altar, ambo, and chair, and for the ease of singing – both in unison and in alternating choirs – antiphonal seating is great!

    Lovin’ it…

  13. I was fortunate enough to visit the Crystal Cathedral in it’s heyday. Not only did I get to tour the church itself, but I was able to spend an entire day observing the students at the Crystal Cathedral Academy. They used cutting edge curriculum in all grade levels and made it mandatory for every child to be involved in the music ministry of Sunday worship. You had to be in the children’s choir to attend the school… You had to be enrolled in the school to sing in the popular and highly regarded children’s choir. The children had almost 3 hours of music instruction each day. Catholic schools could take a lesson from the way they operated. Maybe we would see more Catholic school students actually attending mass on Sundays. That is a failure of a lot of Catholic schools (not all, but quite a few).
    The organ was amazing! We enjoyed a private concert by Fred Swann’s assistant organist, Mark Thallendar. Overwhelming is the only way to describe it. The building was visually overwhelming as well. A great, big, empty space. Dr. Schuller’s intention was that the space be flooded with light rather than things. The comment above about the primary design function being a television studio is correct. A little known fact is that each pain of glass was calibrated by a computer to a specific thickness to theoretically achieve near perfect acoustics.
    Well… that didn’t work!
    I personally found the original worship space a little cold and impersonal (even with all that light). Rather than a space for worship, it reminded me of a giant community area in an upscale mall. For Dr. Schuller, it was the assembly present in worship that made it church. “Where two or more are gathered…”
    One more note. Schuller personally did a rewrite of all the hymns used at the Cathedral to be gender neutral and indicative of his personal philosophy of positive thinking. They are very interesting… a little theologically watered down but easy for the assembly to grasp.
    Having experienced the building in the 80’s, I think the redesign of the interior is stunning!

  14. I could not tell how they are dealing with reservation. Is the tabernacle in a discrete separate area or is it prominent in the main worship area and therefore a distraction from liturgical worship?

  15. From the cathedral’s site:
    The tabernacle, containing consecrated bread reserved from the celebration of the Eucharist, will be located in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. This “reserved sacrament” will be available for distribution to the sick and as Viaticum, food for the journey, for the dying. It will also serve as a place for private prayer and adoration. The chapel will be located in the area behind the bishop’s chair. It is a diamond shaped space with the tabernacle positioned on a central pillar.

  16. While it’s not otherwise a remarkably beautiful church, I did serve in one with the people in roughly facing-choirs arrangement. It worked very well. In this photo, the ambo is at the far end, the celebrant’s chair at the near end (with the musicians behind that chair), and the altar in the middle. It is the very large Jesuit parish of Saint Raphael the Archangel in Raleigh. http://www.saintraphael.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Membership.jpg

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