Being a writer has changed my life, and not only for the way it has allowed me to travel instead of “work.” It has inspired me to stop and look around more. Today is a good example.
I have driven past this place more times than I can count, as far back as my regular travels between my parents’ home in Los Angeles and my time in college in San Diego. More recently, A and I have driven past regularly, always remarking that “we should see that one day.” As The Royal Tour has grown, and along with it my need to produce more content – I’m up to a three articles per week schedule now and hoping to stay there – places like the Crystal Cathedral in Orange County, California get their turn to be explored.
Let’s get some semantics out of the way first. While the building – and the surrounding campus with several outbuildings – is known colloquially as the Crystal Cathedral, that is no longer its official name. It is now the Christ Cathedral, and has been since 2019. But for locals, visitors, and even Google, its earlier branding as the Crystal Cathedral still holds.
The Crystal Cathedral was opened in 1980, a spectacular new center for televangelist Robert Schuller and his Garden Grove Community Church, which would be renamed Crystal Cathedral Ministries once the building opened. The name is appropriate, as the building uses more than 10,000 panes of glass (albeit not crystal), and it branded itself the largest glass building in the world at the time of its opening, a claim that has not been verified. In 1990, the cathedral added its signature Prayer Spire, which towers over the other buildings and is easily visible from Interstate 5, hence my constant seeing of the complex while driving past.
In 2010, Crystal Cathedral Ministries put the Crystal Cathedral up for sale, having fallen into debt exceeding $50 million. After some bidding by Chapman University, the campus was sold to the Catholic Diocese of Orange, which had outgrown its prior home. The name was changed to Christ Cathedral at the new dedication in 2019.
For visitors, the Prayer Spire is the most visible portion of the campus, but it actually isn’t connected to any other building. (However, beneath the beautiful glass tower is a small shrine of different colored marble that is worth peeking into.) It also is not a bell tower, as the bells are part of another building.
The centerpiece of the campus is the Crystal Cathedral itself. I’ve been in a lot of churches during my travels, and this one is completely unique. From the outside, it is tinted glass. Inside, it is stunning multi-faceted “crystal” covering nearly the entire thing. It is breathtaking, even on a mostly cloudy day.
Behind the altar sits the Hazel Wright Organ, which is currently the fifth largest pipe organ in the world. One can visit for organ concerts, but just the few notes I heard as a wedding was beginning could be easily discerned all over the campus.
To either side of the central altar, the balconies stretch upward and narrow like wings, providing a dramatic effect. As I said, it is objectively beautiful.
The remainder of the grounds holds sculptures, fountains, a gift shop and event space, a small memorial garden, and the shrine of Our Lady of La Vang, which highlights the huge Vietnamese population of the local diocese.
In all, my excursion to the Crystal Cathedral lasts about an hour, and I leave to head back to the freeway feeling accomplished. It is a shame that it took me becoming a writer and needing content to come here, and it is a reminder that sometimes that stop is worth making.
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