AIDS Interfaith Memorial Chapel

The AIDS Interfaith Memorial Chapel  at Grace Cathedral is a sacred and welcoming place that serves many needs. It is a site of pilgrimage, and only one of a handful of such chapels dedicated to people impacted by AIDS.

The chapel was completed and dedicated in 2000. In 2017, a restoration of the chapel was undertaken and it was rededicated on World Aids Day, December 1, 2017.

AIDSInterfaithMemorialChapel_Haring altarpiece

Grace Cathedral was in the forefront of response to the AIDS crisis when the disease first appeared in San Francisco, in the early 1980s. Vice Dean Frances Tornquist led the cathedral’s compassionate reply, and the death of cathedral congregants and staff members had a serious impact. The idea for a cathedral memorial chapel began to form, and the north tower lobby area was set aside in 1995. The AIDS Chapel remembers victims and honors caregivers, and is one of only a handful in the United States.  The first major furnishing obtained for the chapel was a casting of the striking triptych altarpiece “The Life of Christ” (1990) by New York pop artist Keith Haring, one of his few religious pieces, and his last work before his own death from AIDS. The altarpiece was obtained with the help of his friend Yoko Ono and local activist Frank Malifrando. Shaped like a Russian icon, it depicts a multi-armed figure of compassion bearing symbols of Christ’s life. Soaring ‘angels’ flank the figure, and a restless crowd of victims surges below.

 AIDSInterfaithMemorialChapel_religions symbols

 

More furnishings were added over the following years. These included symbols of world faiths on the corner piers, a reminder of the worldwide nature of the pandemic, which has taken over 40 million lives worldwide. A book of remembrance with nearly 500 names is displayed in a corner. A panel of the NAMES AIDS Quilt hangs from the chapel vaulting. The now 48,000 panel project was begun in San Francisco in 1987, each panel being made up of smaller units created by family and friends in memory of AIDS victims. The chapel panel is changed periodically.

The restoration of the chapel in 2017 was inspired by a generous gift from the estate of Thomas M. Dross and the guidance of the Venerable Anthony Turney before he died in 2014. The goal of the restoration was to make the chapel an even more welcoming place by making it lighter in look, feel and use of space. Paint colors are lighter; dark steel architectural elements have been replaced by golden metalwork; a graceful new entryway to the chapel enhances the sense of lightness and welcome; and there is a new lighting system.

 

For further information, contact cathedral archivist Michael Lampen at michaell@gracecathedral.org.

 

Contact Information

Email: michaell@gracecathedral.org

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