Dear readers, I recently had the good fortune to accompany my partner on a work trip to Anaheim, California—best known as the home of Disneyland. While the partner was off working, I spent a lot of time searching for things to do that did not involve spending lots of money or worshiping the Great Mouse. In my meanderings, I inadvertently discovered an amazing place that combined both excessive consumption and “worship”: the Crystal Cathedral.
Opened in the 80s, the Crystal Cathedral is the world’s largest glass building. Its weekly church service “Hour of Power” was broadcast across the country, and it featured speakers such as Arnold Schwartzenegger and Charlton Heston. With over 3000 padded theater-style seats, it also allows overflow visitors to experience the service from the comfort of their own cars in the lot.
It’s not just the one building, either—although the main sanctuary is by far the most impressive. There is even a map to show you how to find your way around the megaplex.
There’s a “Welcoming Center”…
A “Family Life Center”…
A “Tower of Hope” with carillon…
An art gallery (with no doors, so I just sort of zoomed in through the windows)…
A Box Office…
And this crystal tower complete with a marble prayer-dome.
As you can imagine, this kind of religious theme park cost a lot to keep up and running. The establishment certainly encouraged donations….
But when that wasn’t enough, and charging $25-30 a ticket for entry to their Christmas and Easter pageants (the latter of which included the scene with Jesus throwing out the money lenders) didn’t bring it together either, they went bankrupt. It is now owned by the Catholic Church, which presumably is rather more fiscally capable of maintaining this sparkling Jesusland.
So you may be wondering why this place is being featured in an art blog. Well, in part it is because this place was so fantastic and ridiculous that I felt the need to share it; but also it features a whole collection of life-sized sculptures dotted around the place that really deserve a look here. So, let us begin the tour.
From the entrance, everywhere there is sidewalk there are marble engravings with the names of donors. It is the religious Hollywood Walk of Fame, only instead of doing anything impressive, all you have to do to be included is donate a suitably obscene amount of money.
The first thing you come to is the marble temple below the crystal tower. Inside there is a rotating marble pedestal, upon which is a crystal block with a laser-etched 3D Jesus attempting to claw his way out of it. There is a padded ring surrounding it on the floor to allow for more comfortable adoration of the crystal.
The sanctuary itself is indeed a glittering architectural wonder. We’ve already seen the “Joy of Giving” statue at the entry; going a bit further inside we see the “altar.”
It’s not so much an altar as a giant marble stage to show off the massive pipe organ, choir, and a lighting setup worthy of Broadway. Note the cross set off to the side so as not to obstruct the view.
A giant TV screen is, of course, a vital part of any church service.
There is also a fountain running the length of the sanctuary (switched off in the off-hours). Is it for impromptu baptisms? Wet Sunday-best Contests?
Moving on, we come to the ladies’ room, which gets a mention because it was fancier than those in some 5-Star hotels, including marble pillars and floors, floor-to ceiling mirrors, sofas, and original Thomas Kinkade paintings.
Outside the ladies’ room we look at our first statue: the return of the Prodigal Son (note the ladies's sign emerging from the shrubbery).
It seems quite deliberately placed here; is this a subtle message encouraging women to return from their wanton feminist ways into the welcoming arms of the Father Church? Stop worrying about freedom or personal responsibility, and go get gussied up before the luxurious mirrors.
On close inspection, it looks a little like the Prodigal Son is feebly attempting to strangle his father.
Continuing on, Jesus waves for you to join him in walking on water. This is actually perfectly possible, as the water there is about an inch deep.
There were several statues of Jesus surrounded by children, and in all of them he looks uncomfortably like someone I would not want to leave my children with.
This is my favorite. It’s supposed to be the finding of the lost sheep, but his face has this terrifying glee on it, and the kid next to him looks like she’s saying, “Please, sir, don’t slaughter our only lamb for your unholy sacrifice!”
Outside the Memorial Garden, there is this eagle that apparently ate something terrible.
Then there is this. The story goes that the Bad Guys et.al. brought this woman caught in the act of adultery and tried to get Jesus to say they should stone her, but he says that the one without sin should cast the first stone.
The artist has certainly captured the Cartoonish Bad Guy look.
However, Jesus isn’t so much standing up for her, as ducking out of the way and saying “Yeah, you shouldn’t stone her (but please don’t hurt me)!”
The lady herself has opted to turn the covered part of herself away, leaving her suggestive adulteress back open for rock-pelting.
For the finale, we have this amazing depiction of the Holy Family.
This was the only statue in the place that was painted. However, close inspection reveals that a key bit has been left untouched.
As Mother Mary looks on with a slightly spacey look of peace, Baby Jesus is apparently the descendant of the Terminator.
Although his skin and hair have been left a gleaming silver, we note that his eyes have been carefully painted blue. Because of course Jesus had blue eyes.