One of the most magical moments in my life was coming upon the awe-inspiring Duomo di Milano (Milano Cathedral pix above). It remains a testament to the greatness of Italian architecture. Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine experiencing the same sensations in my crime ridden, beloved city of Oakland. But, here we are, after a $190 million endeavor that took three years to build, we have the Oakland Cathedral. Today marks the formal consecration and dedication of (its official name) The Cathedral of Christ the Light (image below).
Raised Catholic, I know enough to walk away from all forms of organized religion, especially the ones that allows their “followers” to manipulate “the book” for their own sociopolitical gains. Yes, the $190 million arguably can go to many programs for the needy. However, just having this architectural wonder grace the Lake Merritt area has meaning beyond direct aid for the people of Oakland.
I grew up everywhere and all over the world, but Oakland is where I call home. Oakland exists as a source of pride for me. This city is the most integrated in the nation. Yes, there exists cities like LA and NYC with diverse populations, but people from different walks of life and racial/ethnic groups are separated by areas and barrios. Here, we live with each other and learn from each other, but yet remain an economic and social pariah. Undeserving of its bad reputation, it’s something some of us live with, while others perpetuate the negative stereotypes in order to keep our little gem a secret.
So, to have a cathedral of this magnitude in Oakland is something that as an Oaklanese, I am almost too tearfully happy to really express in words. It says others see Oakland as we see Oakland and have the belief that the city and its people deserve this architectural wonder.
The cathedral serves as the spiritual home for the Diocese of Oakland, with over 500,000 Catholics members in Alameda and Contra Costa counties who worship at 85 parishes. Serving the East Bay's diverse community, the diocese offers Mass in 17 languages. I’m actually looking forward to the shop and checking out the garden dedicated to the rape victims of Catholic priests (such a long debate there, huh?). I don’t believe the cathedral has a café yet, but if so, I’ll be there with my laptop sipping on my late.
All joking aside (I’m actually serious about the café), there’s really much to admire about The Cathedral of Christ the Light. For my architect buddies, you'd be tickled to know it was designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and is a sustainable, green building. The structure’s concrete was formed using fly ash and contributes thermal mass for heating and cooling. The woodwork provides warmth to the building and came from FSC certified Douglas Fir. To prevent another the Cathedral of Saint Francis de Sales, which experienced irreparably damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 and which this one is replacing, the new cathedral is seismically outfitted to withstand a significant earthquake.
Incorporated are fish motifs, most noticeably on the roof as seen clearly from air view. The walls were composed of overlapping panels of wood and glass rising skyward resembling fish scales. This motif also got me thinking that Early Christians used the "fish" symbol as a secret code to point the way to secret meetings. Some nod to the history of grassroots and persecution goes well with Oakland as a whole.
Also, Craig Hartman, the lead architect, followed the diocese’s main design focus, daylight. For this we have the centerpiece of the interior, a large-scale image of Christ as created from natural sunlight through 94,000 perforated holes on aluminum.
Other tidbits includes the fact that the cathedral: took 60,750 tons of concrete; has 768 Douglas Fir horizontal louvers and 1,000 sheets of glass to cover it; 36 friction pendulum double-concave base isolators in which the entire Cathedral rests (for seismic reasons); has the capacity to contain 2,700 crypts and urns; can seat 1,300 people; and sits on 2.5 acres of land. Amen!