If you have ever been part of a well-researched tour of a great cathedral, then you know one thing — these sanctuaries are packed with symbolism. Almost everything in these buildings has some connection to centuries of Christian tradition.
The biggest symbol is the shape of the cathedral itself. It’s all about processions (think pilgrimages) through the cross to reach the high altar.
This brings me to the Los Angeles Times coverage of the transformation of the iconic Crystal Cathedral — an soaring version of a Protestant megachurch — into Christ Cathedral, the spiritual home of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange.
Here’s the key: The late Rev. Robert Schuller made an important request when he asked the legendary architect Philip Johnson to design the Crystal Cathedral — build a church that is also a giant television studio.
That’s precisely what Johnson did. Thus, ever since the Orange diocese bought Schuller’s masterwork, I have been waiting to read a Times story explaining how this giant symbol of TV Christianity could be turned into a cruciform Catholic sanctuary. Here is the top of the recent story that ran under this headline: “Crystal Cathedral, the original evangelical megachurch, has a conversion to Catholicism.”
… The former Crystal Cathedral, a Southern California landmark that has long stood at the intersection of kitsch and postmodernism just three miles from Disneyland, was officially rededicated by the most unlikely of saviors: the Catholic Church.
When the soaring Philip Johnson-designed megachurch opened in 1980, the Crystal Cathedral was, strictly speaking, neither crystal (the structure is composed of more than 10,000 rectangular panels of glass) nor a cathedral (it housed a televangelist, not a Catholic bishop).
That televangelist — late pastor Robert Schuller — once called the compound a “22-acre shopping center for God.”
This short feature — there’s no real coverage of the dedication rites — focused on how Schuller symbolized a shiny era of Southern California, offering drive-in church services during the “same year Disneyland opened its doors and Ray Kroc launched his first McDonald’s restaurant.”
The text is snappy and packed with details — about Schuller. The new Christ Cathedral? Not so much.