Address: 1111 Gough St., San Francisco, CA 94109


On Cathedral Hill in San Francisco, stands the first Catholic Cathedral built after Vatican II, and the third Cathedral of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. The spectacular $9 million project completed in 1971 was overseen by Archbishop Joseph T. McGucken to replace the second Cathedral which burned on September 7, 1962. The Cathedral opened in 1971, but was not formally dedicated until December 10, 1996 after the final sculpture was completed. Although the building of the Cathedral was opposed by some who thought that the money should be used for other purposes; and by some who preferred a more traditional design, the structure has been designated as one of the ten most beautiful churches in the U.S. and attracts thousands of visitors each year. The modern design covers nearly an entire city block and its spartan immensity magnifies the Eucharistic celebration as has been envisioned by Cathedral-builders spanning the centuries of the Catholic Church. The place designed for communal worship is also a peaceful respite for visitors’ viewing, meditation, and prayer.

Special things to see in the Cathedral
• The iconic modern architecture style is of reinforced concrete soaring 191 feet high and fashioned to bring to mind the meeting tent which housed the Ark of the Covenant during Israel’s exile. The exterior displays a cruciform design where the saddle roof, made of eight segments, forms a square at the base with the top shaped as a cross.

• The overpanel above the five bronze double-doors on the entrance is a welcoming work of art with the risen Jesus’ outstretched arms gesturing to all who approach. Also on the panel are St. Francis of Assisi (patron of the City of San Francisco) and St. Clare of Assisi (patroness of Santa Clara Valley). Look carefully when exiting the Cathedral, and you’ll see that the light streaming through the overpanel displays a golden chalice (optical illusion).

• The vast interior can hold nearly 4,000 worshippers – it is free of internal supports aside from four massive concrete pylons at each corner allowing for an unobstructed view of the altar from the nave incorporating the liturgical vision of Vatican II (1962-1965).

• The spectacular interior reaches nearly 20 stories to the dome marked by a cross of yellow colored-glass windows. The arms of the cross extend downward in four different colors of glass to represent the four basic elements: red for fire, blue for water, green for earth, and gold for air.

• Over the sanctuary hangs an unusual baldacchino – it is a collection of several thousand thin metal rods with a long golden cross beneath. The shimmering sight was described by the designer as “an angel, or a luminous robe of the Virgin, or a Divine presence above the most holy space in the church.”

• The two side altars house the tabernacle and a shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The six niches in the outer walls of the nave enclose sculptures of scenes from Mary’s life for contemplation. The two-ton bronze sculptures are suspended from behind by rods creating a free-floating effect. The six sculptures were completed and installed one at a time between 1981 and 1996, and were the final installations before dedication of the Cathedral.

• The “epistle-side” altar contains a much-visited shrine with a Mexican mosaic of Our Lady of Guadalupe surrounded by a bronze sculpture of burning bush depicted in the scene on Mount Sinai.

Interesting Facts About the Cathedral
• Famous religious persons to visit the Cathedral include: Pope St. John Paul II in 1987, St. Mother Teresa of Kolkata in 1982, and Archbishop Fulton Sheen in 1979.
• Detractors of the architectural design refer to the building as “Our Lady of Maytag” who say it resembles an agitator in a washing machine.
• The Cathedral serves as funeral site for S.F. police officers and firefighters who died in the line of duty.
“Old St. Mary’s”, the first Cathedral of the Archdiocese, still stands at the corner of California and Grant.

ArchitectPietro BelluschiItalian-American, Dean at MIT
Concrete DesignerPier-Luigi NerviItalian, Professor at Rome University
Colored GlassProfessor György KepesHungarian, Professor at MIT
Bronze Sculptures & Entrance DoorsEnrico Manfrini (some finished by his student Mario Rudelli)Milanese (Italy), Artist
BaldacchinoRichard LippoldNew York City, Sculptor
OL of Guadalupe MosaicJorge Rodriquez MorenoMexican, Painter & Muralist
Designers and Artists