Statues tell a story

When visitors and congregants think of the Christ Cathedral campus, visions naturally turn toward the iconic structures: Philip Johnson’s glass-encased cathedral, the bell tower and architecturally significant Richard Neutra and Richard Meier campus buildings. 

But when the Diocese of Orange moved onto the campus of the former Crystal Cathedral, it also inherited an interesting array of statues commissioned by the late Robert Schuller and congregants of his church. 

Ten statues, some symbolic and others that tell bible stories, extend along a roughly North-South line between the Memorial Gardens near Chapman Avenue and the Arboretum. 

Since the statues began appearing, mostly in the late 1990s, they have been a popular attraction for visitors and on social media. 

“They add an artistic dimension to the campus and have been popular places for people to come and pray and to take photos,” said Father Christopher Smith, episcopal vicar to Christ Cathedral. “Statues provide a different medium to express religious sentiments and they have served that purpose for many years on the campus.” 

“We believe the art sculptures on campus that were placed here by Rev. Schuller help inspire devotion to Christ,” said Deacon Michael Stock, episcopal director of operations and general counsel. 

Currently seven of the statues remain on display for the public. Three were moved to a campus location and placed in protective wrapping to preserve them during renovations and construction on the grounds. They will be reintroduced when work is finished on a Crystal Cathedral Legacy Garden in memory of Schuller and his former church. 

Kymmberly Binnquist, the senior property manager at Christ Cathedral, has fielded many questions about the fate of the statues and assures they are safe. 

“We’ve had a lot of people asking about them,” she said. “Thousands of people would come through and take pictures with them. I can imagine the Legacy Garden will be very popular once it’s completed.” 

According to Binnquist, the Legacy Garden is still three to five years away from completion, but has been designed and will be placed in a grassy area near the Cultural Center. In addition to the statues from storage, several others may be moved from around the campus into the space. 

In addition to the statues, a commemorative wall will be constructed. 

When construction and renovations began in 2013, about 1,800 engraved granite stones that formed the Walk of Faith outside the cathedral were removed by the diocese. 

Although the stones are gone, Binnquist said the names of parishioners and donors, who bought the stones, have been archived and will be included on the commemorative granite or marble wall. 

Critics sometimes say it has been guilty of paving over history in its development of new property. In the case of Crystal Cathedral, the Church was careful to consider the history of the property and its profound influence on Christianity in Southern California. As a result, care was taken to incorporate Schuller and his church’s legacy into the design. 

Although the statues are not approved Catholic works, they are important to the history and story of faith in the area, according to Fr. Chris. 

“We have viewed them with gratitude as a part of the legacy that was entrusted to us and help to identify the campus as a sacred place,” he said.  

Still on display are seven sculptures. Three are by late artist Dallas Anderson, who was best known for life-sized and larger so-called “monumental” sculptures. Anderson created “Love Without Condemnation,” depicting Christ intervening in a stoning of prostitute, and “Peace be Still” (Christ walking on water), at the fountain near the Tower of Hope. His third is “Job,” sculpted out of white Vermont, which shows the torso of Job emerging from a rough-hewn base. 

Several dramatic pieces were created by Dr. John Soderberg. Maybe the best known of these is “God’s Way to the Good Life,” near the Tower of Hope, which shows Moses with the Ten Commandments held aloft. Another, “Children … Always the Future of the Faith!,” can be seen near the Pastoral Center. A third, “The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes,” is in storage. 

Los Angeles sculptor De Lesprie’s bronze, “Coming Home of the Prodigal Son,” can be found at the Arboretum. Another of her creations, “The Lost is Found!” (story of the Lost Sheep), is in storage. 

“The Eternal Eagle” by Oregon sculptor Michael Maiden, can be found soaring from the Memorial Gardens fountain. 

“The Holy Family Milestones and Miracles,” by J. Seward Johnson and showing the baby Jesus traveling with Mary and Joseph is in storage. 

A number of the sculptures are familiar as they were recreated as ceramics and sold by Schuller’s church. 

The placement of statuary and shrines is an ongoing process at the campus. 

“These areas will be developed as proposals are submitted and plans for funding are secured,” Fr. Chris said. 

A Sacred Arts Commission was created to oversee and approve future proposed sacred art with guidelines for theological accuracy and aesthetic integration into the campus, according to Fr. Chris. 

In the meantime, the faithful and those who appreciate art and scripture are invited to come and see for themselves. 

 “We invite people to come and tour the campus to see the various stories of the bible told through the sculptures,” Deacon Stock said.  

community stories