The renovation of Christ Cathedral

Bishop Vann blessed the construction project before crews started work on the initial phase of the restoration of the cathedral; the cleaning, repairing and replacing of the glass panes that make up the exterior of Christ Cathedral. 

 

Restoration of the glass panes 

 Christ Cathedral is reportedly the largest glass-pane structure in the world, with more than 11,000 panes of tempered glass making up its exterior. The iconic cathedral houses the Hazel Wright Memorial Organ, one of the largest musical instruments in the world. If “large” is a theme, then it follows that cleaning and replacing the thousands of glass panes is a huge task—one that required a blessing. 

Before construction crews began to carefully disassemble, clean and replace the glass panels, the entire project, crew and equipment were blessed by Bishop Kevin Vann in an evening ceremony that marked the first major step in the renovation of the cathedral. 

Ryan Lilyengren, then-director of communications for the Diocese of Orange, said, “The Bishop was here blessing the tradespeople, the workmen, and a few panes of glass and some of the structures that will be used in this process. The people will be renovating, changing out the glass, recaulking and resealing all the glass.” He added, “This is really the first major step in the construction project of the cathedral transformation.” He noted that before any further work could begin, the building first had to be sealed and weather-proofed properly. 

The bishop, the vicar general and the financial supporters of the renovation were on hand for the Dec. 15, 2017 ceremony because as Catholics, Lilyengren said, we strive to make certain that all our endeavors are grounded in faith. 

 

Erecting the scaffolding 

 

An intricate maze of scaffolding was installed inside the cathedral to allow workers to clean the inside of the more than 11,000 glass windowpanes. It was also used to allow construction crewmembers to paint the nine-story space frame, and to install fire sprinklers, lighting and the quatrefoils. 

The elaborate scaffolding was in place in late July 2017 and was used through the summer of 2018. The structure consisted of 11 million parts and weighed approximately 1 million pounds. It was constructed much like an Erector Set and at its peak reached 120 feet high. 

The scaffolding, which included four “stair towers” and hoisting platforms used to raise supplies to workers in the highest levels, was said to be the second-largest scaffolding installation next to that installed during the renovation of the Statue of Liberty. 

When it was no longer needed, it took more than three months to disassemble. 

 

Installation of the Quatrefoils 

 

Interior restoration of the cathedral included the installation along the cathedral’s interior of thousands of aluminum powder-coated quatrefoils, which will deflect UV rays and heat from the glass. This system will allow the building to be air conditioned at a reasonable cost and improve acoustics without compromising the beauty and appeal of the glass structure. The quatrefoils have been installed along the cathedral’s ceiling and upper walls. More than 11,000 quatrefoils will make up the unique climate and sound-enhancing system.  

The triangles on each panel remain open to varying degrees (between 15 and 45) to let in light based on how the sun passes over the cathedral, the Very Rev. Christopher Smith, rector and episcopal vicar at Christ Cathedral, said. 

“Not only do they help with the acoustics and interior temperature but they’re also aesthetically beautiful.” 

The completion of the quatrefoil installation was a milestone moment in the process of the restoration. At a celebratory prayer service and dinner on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018, attendees were awed by the timely appearance of a rainbow. The clouds parted after the rains and the sun broke through, setting the stage for a spectacular dusk for the more than 500 guests assembled outside Christ Cathedral. 

 

Sourcing of the stone and tile 

 

Bishop Vann was actively involved in the selection of the hard surfaces installed in the cathedral. He toured Grassi Family Stone/Marble Works, which supplied the stone for the flooring. 

White stone, imported from quarries near Verona, Italy, was installed across the cathedral’s floor and walls. The stonework was done by Carnevale and Lohr, the firm that recently installed the marble at Hearst Castle’s famed Neptune Pool. Carnevale and Lohr also did the stonework at the original Crystal Cathedral and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. All the cathedral’s stone was fabricated in Italy and shipped to the U.S. in 14 shipping containers. Stone was sourced from Italy, Germany, Tunisia and Turkey. 

The unique angular cuts and installation of the stone on the walls is very intricate and designed to enhance the acoustics in the cathedral. There are plates on the back of each piece of stone that allowed it to be cemented at the correct angles on the wall to assist in the reverberation of the Hazel Wright Organ. 

The stone on the flooring spans the interior of the worship area and continues through to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and the Baptistry. It also is featured on the predella and outside of the festal doors. 

In early April 2017, Bishop Kevin Vann visited Italy, where he toured a stone and marble factory in Carrara to review the fabricating of marble for Christ Cathedral. Carrara is a town along the CarrioneRiver in Tuscany, famous for the white and blue-grey marble quarried there. 

“This marble is beautiful and rare and will also be behind the cathedra and presider chairs,” Bishop Vann said. 

 

Assembly of the altar, ambo and cathedra 

 

To prepare for the delivery of the altar, cathedra and ambo, construction crews first poured concrete for the predella, a raised platform at the center of Christ Cathedral that is elevated approximately 21” above the primary worship level to enhance sightlines to the altar, ambo and cathedra. Access to the altar is via three broad steps ascending from the east and west sides of the sanctuary. 

The 13,940-pound altar, is made from Carrara marble carved from the mountains of Verona, Italy. Bishop Vann personally visited the quarry to meet the artisans and select the materials. 

It took many months of polishing and cutting to get the exact fit. Each item was assembled in Italy, disassembled for shipping and then reassembled and installed upon arrival at Christ Cathedral. 

The priests of the Diocese of Orange, who collectively donated nearly $900,000, commemorated the altar to Christ Cathedral. 

“It’s only fitting that the presbyterate gift and commemorate the altar, one of the most important parts of the cathedral,” said Tony Jennison, vice president of Philanthropy for the Orange Catholic Foundation.  

The ambo, the place from which the Word is proclaimed, was cut from the same stone as the altar.  

“It was one big, massive piece, and then they cut all the different pieces from that one big piece,” said Snyder Langston’s Construction Superintendent Greg McClure, who supervised the installation. 

 

Raising of the crux gemmata 

 

The crux gemmata, suspended over the marble altar in Christ Cathedral, is the design of Brother William Woeger, FSC, liturgical consultant for the renovation project, and was fabricated by two talented teams. The corpus was created by the Ferdinand Stuflesser Studio in Ortisei, Italy. The corpus is made of a bleached- or white-cedar wood that was carved in the image of Christ. 

Crafted in Omaha, Nebraska from blackened steel and transported to Orange County in four separate pieces, the cross itself weighs 1,000 pounds, rises 18 feet above the cathedral’s altar and hangs from the baldachin. It is a cross typical of early medieval art, affixed with gems and the crowned corpus of Christ. 

Fabricator David Fitzpatrick put the finishing touches on the crux gemmata inside the cathedral before it was hoisted above the altar. 

“It’s a very big day today—it’s a great day,” Fitzpatrick said. “To be able to be here and see it be put up in place, and then years later be able to come back and say, ‘It’s still here,’ and enjoy it is an awesome feeling.” 

The raising of the crux gemmata signaled another symbolic milestone as Christ Cathedral transformed into a Catholic house of worship. 

 

Sacred Art 

 

The sacred art found inside Christ Cathedral was created by six internationally recognized artists. It is designed to welcome worshippers into the presence of the Lord, to introduce the communion of saints and the glory of Our Lady, the Blessed Mother, as well as to accompany all on our journey of faith, inspired by the Holy Spirit. 

Pablo Eduardo, a Bolivian-born sculptor known for marrying his Spanish-American heritage with his training and intimate knowledge of his craft, designed four Manifestations of the Divinity of Christ, the 14 Stations of the Cross, and the festal doors. 

“Our inspiration is Christ-centered,” Eduardo says. “I am a Catholic. The more art I make for the Church, the more devout I become. For me, the figure of Christ represents the iconographic steps we take in our lives – He falls three times, gets up, and accepts His fate. All these things I’ve tried to depict differently, with a bit more modern iconography.” 

Eduardo’s sculptures, rendered in bronze, are recognized for capturing a snapshot of artistic metamorphosis while celebrating rhythm, emotion, texture and tension. He is known for developing close relationships with his clients.  

“I met with Bishop Vann and Father Christopher Smith (episcopal vicar to Christ Cathedral) and I think of them the whole time; I’m trying to capture their spirit, to speak in a way they understand. 

“We pray and we ask God to give us the ability to do something worthy of the responsibility they’ve entrusted to me,” Eduardo said. 

Brother William Woeger, a member of the Christ Cathedral Sacred Art Commission, served as a consultant on the art commissions and is one of the artists, responsible for creating the crux gemmata(crucifix over the altar), altar candles, Paschal candle, sanctuary lamps, reliquary (container for relics at the altar), and dedication candles. 

Other artists commissioned to create sacred art for Christ Cathedral include: the Ferdinand StuflesserStudio in Ortisei, Italy, which made the corpus for the crux gemmata; the Valerio Lendarduzzi Studio in Fontanafredda, Italy, which created the Our Lady of Guadalupe mosaic, and the coats of arms mosaics in the narthex (an architectural element consisting of the entrance or lobby area, located at the west end of the nave, opposite the church’s main altar); Mia Tavontatti, an award-winning artist and painter, who created the baptistry mosaic; and ceramicist Brother Martin Erspamer, a monk of Saint MeinradArchabbey, who created the tapestry of the Pantocrator, or Christ seated in glory as the Lord of Creation. 

Bro. Woeger said that some of the cathedral’s sacred art is inspired by the Egino Weinert tabernacle, completed in West Germany in the 1970s, which was acquired from the Weinert family in 2015 and will be the centerpiece of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. Tabernacles are used to hold the Eucharist and provide a place where congregants often pray. 

The cathedral’s artworks will include, among many others: 

  • A crux gemmata, made of a bleached- or white-cedar image of Christ, suspended over the altar 
  • Four bronze bas relief works that depict the manifestation of the Lord’s divinity in the Scripture: the Adoration of the Christ Child by the Magi, the Wedding Feast of Cana, the Transfiguration of the Lord on Mt. Tabor, and the Baptism of the Lord by John the Baptist
  • 14 Stations of the Cross, also created in bronze bas relief to be in continuity with the four manifestations
  • 12 dedication lights suspended from the cathedral’s interior walls, each representing the 12 Apostles

 

In addition, stunning works in mosaic—a medium used in early Greek, Roman and Christian art—will adorn the cathedral. 

“Two floor mosaics will be located in the Narthex (the cathedral’s entry area),” Tony Jennison, vice president of philanthropy said. “They’ll depict two coats of arms: one for Pope Francis and one for Bishop Vann.” 

The Diocese’s patroness will also appear in mosaic. “The Our Lady of Guadalupe piece will be located on the cathedral’s south interior wall,” Jennison says. 

 

Oak pews are bolted into place 

 

When the cathedral was originally built by Rev. Schuller, the Marshall Company was the vendor that made and installed the original seating. The Idaho-based company was once again charged with manufacturing and installing the pews in Christ Cathedral. 

The pews are designed to seat 2,100 people. There are approximately 1,591 feet of pews on the main floor—a total of 135 pews on the worship level—and another 1,800 feet of pews among all three balconies, for a total of approximately 3,200 total linear feet. 

The pews are made of red oak, stained to a dark walnut. 

According to the company, the raw material (from Idaho) arrived at the plant and then was milled and “ripped.” The pews were built to exact specifications to maximize seating, while considering sightlines. They were sanded, sent to the finish room, into the trucks and delivered to the job site. 

The pew kneelers in the main floor have pistons on them to keep them from hitting the floor when lowered; they slowly go down and settle quietly without making any noise. They must be raised manually. 

The kneelers up in the balconies are automatic and they’ll raise back up when not in use. 

In February of this year, Fr. Christopher Smith, rector at Christ Cathedral, got his first glance at the pews. 

“This is my first time here in the future Christ Cathedral with the pews in, and it’s really starting to look like a church,” he said with a smile. “It’s wonderful to see these beautiful pews. We’ve been dreaming about them for years, and the beautiful dark color contrasts nicely with the lighter hues. They’re empty now, but in not too long of a time they will be filled with people and they will be beautiful pews when they’re filled with people.” 

 

Festal doors are hung 

 

Catholic cathedrals do not earn their distinction as a cathedral because of their size or architecture. A cathedral is designated as such because it is the seat of the bishop of that particular diocese. It contains the bishop’s chair, called the cathedra. Another distinction marking a cathedral are the bishop’s doors, also called the festal doors. 

Christ Cathedral’s festal doors were created by artist and sculptor Pablo Eduardo. He also created several other sacred art pieces for the cathedral including the Stations of the Cross. 

The blackened steel doors, weighing 7,000 pounds, feature a bronze inlay that Eduardo says captures some of the most significant stories in the Bible. 

“The first part is ‘emptiness,’” Eduardo explains. “Then the ‘hands of God,’ and they create the cosmos. Then ‘Adam and Eve’ and the Garden of Eden.” 

Eduardo continues: “Then there’s the serpent. Eve eating the apple. There’s the ‘Cain and Abel’ story, and then the ‘Sacrifice of Isaac.’” 

The linear art is, according to Eduardo, like a movie trailer. “You see different images. You focus on things that come out and then you focus on another thing.” 

“I’m really, really honored to have the opportunity to do this,” he said. “When I was a very, very young artist I always liked this kind of sacred art. I would look at churches and I would say, ‘Wow!’” 

“We’ve done works in other churches before, but to do this for Christ Cathedral, being the architectural gem that it is in the center for Orange County, it’s one of the biggest honors so far in my life.”

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