The Grace Cathedral Grand Tour includes many areas not typically seen by casual visitors such as the interior of the Chapel of Grace, the Vestry to view our collection of vestments, the Gallery with sweeping views of the nave, and a walk up the 94 stairs to the top of the South Tower for a unique view of the San Francisco skyline. This 90 minute, behind-the-scenes tour is a must-see for tourists as well as San Francisco residents.
Docents, members of the Guild of Saint Martin, are a dedicated, well-informed group of volunteers who are available to give information, point out features of the cathedral, and answer questions. Check our calendar for times they are available.
If you are planning to bring a group to visit us and wish to have a docent present, please call 415-749-6348 to make arrangements.
This church building is a “cathedral” because it is the seat of the bishop, the chief minister of the diocese, and contains his chair or “cathedra”. The architecture of the cathedral is the traditional French Gothic style, although the fabric is concrete and steel. The history of Grace Cathedral extends back to 1849, when little Grace Chapel was built in Gold Rush San Francisco. A larger Grace Church followed, but was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire. The present Nob Hill cathedral site was given by the railroad/banking Crocker family, and the cathedral was built from 1927 to 1964. Over the past many decades Grace Cathedral has grown to be a true House of Prayer for All People, and you are among the many people who have made virtual visits.
Grace Cathedral has much to offer both pilgrim and casual visitor. The Doors of Paradise, replicas of famed Renaissance doors, are at the cathedral entrance. High in the tower at right is the cathedral carillon of 44 English bells. Inside the cathedral, the baptismal font signifies entry into the church community through baptism. At right is the AIDS Chapel and the Haring altarpiece. On the two floors above is the cathedral columbarium and the Chapel of St. Francis. The visitor is struck by the vast space and aisles of colorful stained glass, with 66 windows by five artists. The aisles also display historic murals of cathedral and church history. In the nave floor is the labyrinth, a sacred walkable design symbolic of the soul’s journey through life to salvation. Beyond the nave, at the center of the cathedral, is the sanctuary, with the granite and redwood High Altar. Worshipers gather at the sanctuary rails to receive the bread and wine of the Eucharist, symbols of the love of God in Christ. Beyond the sanctuary is the quire, where clergy and the famed cathedral choir gather for services. The cathedral's main organ, the Alexander Memorial Aeolian-Skinner, has 7,466 pipes. Flanking chapels are the Chapel of Grace and the Chapel of the Nativity.
Outside, the cathedral close, or grounds, a city block, contains an outdoor labyrinth, Chapter House (cathedral offices), the Cathedral School for Boys, The Community Preschool and Diocesan House (diocesan offices). The old Crocker rear gate and parts of the boundary walls survive from 1877. Rising from the cathedral roof is the central spire or fleche, its eight dragons warding off evil from cathedral and city. Grace Cathedral is, above all, a living cathedral, a place of reconciliation, spiritual growth and compassion, open to the challenges of the new millennium. We invite you to visit in person some day soon.
For more information about the history and art of the cathedral, click here.
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