Wednesday, February 20, 2008

History of Old St. Mary's Church in San Francisco

The Cathedrals of California is one of my favorite blogs, offering history and architecture. The latest post is about Old St. Mary's Church in Chinatown. The stories feature some of the great personalities of San Francisco, particularly the bishops, who built and rebuilt places of worship. I attended noon Mass there often when I worked downtown some years ago.

On the morning of April 18, 1906 an enormous earthquake shook the city. This singular event in California history wold destroy much of the city; what had not crumbled in the first temblor was likely destroyed by fires that raged throughout the city for four days. At Old St. Mary’s Cathedral, there was little damage; the cross and pediment fell from the tower, some finials fell inside, some buttresses were damaged. As a precaution, the sacred vessels, vestments and some furnishings were sent to residences on Nob Hill for safekeeping; a move that was to prove a mistake. About noon that day the flames begin to approach Old St. Mary’s. For several hours the faithful fought flames, but eventually they ran out of water and could only watch as the venerable church burned. Only the brick walls remained; the stained glass was melted and the marble high altar had turned to dust.

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