Orange County And The Crystal Cathedral

Beautiful. As an office building, that is.

It would appear that the Diocese of Orange needs a new Cathedral and plans to build one in Santa Ana. Coincidentally, the local Protestant landmark, the so-called “Crystal cathedral”, is on sale after the bankruptcy of the protestant ecclesial community previously using the structure. Apparently, the Diocese of Orange would be interested in buying.

I remember this building. When I lived in Germany, it was televised by CNBC every Sunday morning. There was a strange chap there with a beautiful white mane, dressed a bit like a Christmas tree, probably talking about Christ in some way or other. Whilst the building is, in its way, a rather impressive piece of real estate, I struggle to see the reason why the Diocese of Orange should attempt to buy it. My reasons are as follows:

1) Beautiful as this building now appears, it will get old. Glass does get old. Not in such an ugly way as concrete, nor in such a fast one, but it always does. A traditionally built Cathedral, on the other hand, will beautifully resist the passing fashions and the whims of men. If I were the Bishop, I would go for something that will look good in centuries to come, not something that looks good, or has some kind of notoriety, now.

2) A Cathedral should be, if you ask me, more than a functional building; more even than an aesthetic exercise; it should be a statement of Christian spirituality. The way they were made was traditionally consistent with the message they sent. They were, so to speak, talking stones, and this is the way a cathedral should be. It follows that even the most spectacular of buildings must be considered inadequate, if it doesn’t comply with these requirements. The Crystal cathedral clearly doesn’t. It is beautiful, but it is beautiful in the way the headquarter of a pharmaceutical company can be beautiful; the presence of a tall bell tower doesn’t change the general impression of the complex as a big glass box.

3) Bishop Brown seems very interested in stressing the fact that the place should be preserved as a place of Christian worship. I fail to see the reason why. Even Catholic churches are deconsecrated all the time, and the idea that a Protestant gathering place should henceforward be used for other uses shouldn’t really bother anyone. Besides, there will be one Cathedral in both cases: whether the place of (Catholic) worship is in Garden Grove or in nearby Santa Ana, the number of places of Christian worship will be exactly the same, with no loss and no gain.

In my eyes, every time that the possibility (and the money) are there to build a new Cathedral, things should be made as our ancestors used to do them: properly and with the centuries in sight. The recycling of a modern, “glass and iron” building does not fulfil, if you ask me, either requirement*.


* technical note: modern buildings of this sort are built to different specifications than buildings of the past, because the economic realities of our times make it more convenient to specify a useful life of around 100 years. This is obviously considered when valuing the building, but make no mistake: this structure is not very likely to be there in 100, let alone 300 years’ time.

Posted on July 8, 2011, in Catholicism and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Orange County And The Crystal Cathedral.

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