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See Grace Cathedral With Fresh Eyes on New Self-Guided Tour

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A bronze statue of a serene-looking man in monk-like robes, arms outstretched, stands before enormous, long, thin stained glass windows.
Beniamino Bufano's statue of St. Francis of Assisi, inside Grace Cathedral since 1993. (Rae Alexandra)

Let’s get this out of the way first: Grace Cathedral has introduced an entrance fee. It doesn’t apply to those attending services, individuals looking for a place to pray, or children aged 11 and under. But entering the cathedral as a tourist will now set you back $10-$12, depending on your age.

The good news is that, giving you more bang for your buck, Grace has installed a 12-stop electronic tour guide to the cathedral’s art, history and architecture. Docent-led tours are still available once a day (priced $18-$20), but the self-guided tour offers something to folks just casually dropping in.

I recently took myself around the loop of interactive screens, and honestly? The tour felt worth the fee. The abundance of facts shared about the cathedral will surprise most casual visitors, and delight any and all history nerds.

Here are just five nuggets I found out on the tour:

  • The Keith Haring altarpiece in the AIDS Memorial Chapel was a gift from Yoko Ono.
    Thurgood Marshall is depicted in one of the cathedral’s stained glass windows.
  • After the 1906 earthquake, rector David J. Evans rescued holy objects from the burning Grace Church (then located at Stockton and California). Some of those relics are still used in Grace Cathedral services and communions today.
  • In 1934, Ansel Adams was hired by Grace’s lead architect Lewis Hobart to take a series of portraits of the cathedral. Three of those photographs are currently on display, donated by Hobart’s son.
  • The glowing ladder installation that’s been in the cathedral since 2016 was co-created by Jim Campbell—the same artist responsible for turning the top of the Salesforce Tower into an LED display.

I’m barely even scratching the surface here.

A stained glass window of Jesus and the Woman from Samaria sits behind and above 'Coffer'—a wood chip sculpture by Californian artist Richard Faralla.
A stained glass window of Jesus and the Woman from Samaria sits behind and above ‘Coffer’—a wood chip sculpture by Californian artist Richard Faralla. (Rae Alexandra)

Whether or not you think it’s right to charge people to enter religious buildings is entirely up to you. Some cathedrals—like Notre Dame or the Sacré-Cœur in Paris—don’t charge a dime. Others have no qualms about taking your lunch money—like London’s St. Paul’s (£16-£18), or Duomo Cathedral in Milan (€2-€17).

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For me, what it boils down to is this: Grace Cathedral is a beautiful building that serves as a fascinating portal into San Francisco history. But it’s also a modern space where interfaith principles and progressive ideals comfortably commingle. This institution’s ability to gaze into—and honor—the past, while keeping one eye squarely on the here and now, is hard to put a price on. Think about it that way, and $12 doesn’t seem unreasonable.

Grace Cathedral is open to visitors Monday through Saturday, 10am-5pm. A calendar of services and special events can be found at the Grace Cathedral website.

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