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. San Francisco has now lost nearly 20,000 citizens to AIDS.
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.
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. Steel entry pillars and stands give a solemn tone to the chapel. 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 twice a year, although the San Francisco-born project is now based in Atlanta GA. The completed AIDS Interfaith Memorial Chapel was dedicated in 2000.
For further information, contact cathedral archivist Michael Lampen at firstname.lastname@example.org.