Tuesday, January 5, 2010

One of my Favorite SF Churches: The Chapel of the Carmelite Monastery

The intersection of Parker Avenue and Fulton Street is not the most pleasant place in San Francisco. Fulton is a busy east/west thoroughfare, while the proximity to USF guarantees plenty of traffic on Parker. The location, high on the southern slope of Lone Mountain, is generally windy. To the west a long slow slope falls to the ocean, 3 miles away. The southwest corner of the intersection is dominated by a hospital. On the southeast corner is USF Law School. On the northeast corner bulks St. Ignatius--the largest church in San Francisco

On the northwest corner, set back a little from the street, and overshadowed by the surrounding structures, is the Chapel of the Carmelite Monastery of Cristo Rey. The façade is of stonework. Low, wide steps lead to the entryway. Pillars on each side of the large wooden doors support an arch surmounted by Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. The imagery on the pillars from bottom to top winds through Adam and Eve, grapes, wheat, a crown, and finally, the cross.

The chapel nave is quiet. The interior design is neoclassical --very orderly. The floors are rough stone and brick, with some marble; the walls gray; the chairs wooden and vertical. There are few statues: a lovely Shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe on your immediate left as you enter, and a St. Joseph and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel on the right wall of the nave. But the quietness just magnifies the overwhelming fact of the chapel. The moment you enter, your attention is forced to the sanctuary.

The altar and tabernacle are enclosed within an ornate baldachinno. Behind the altar, above the tabernacle, is an explosive gilded depiction of Christ in Glory. The contrast between the nave and sanctuary is extreme, even violent. The designers of this chapel insisted: your attention belongs here. As a matter of aesthetics, the depiction of Our Lord may be too large for its surrounding space, but the very size compels the visitor to gaze at the altarpiece, and hence at the tabernacle right in front of it. There is no doubt about what this chapel considers important. I find the the chapel an especially helpful place to pray.

The chapel is open daily from 7AM to 4:30PM. Only one Mass is celebrated every day, at 7:00 AM.
Posted by Gibbons J. Cooney

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