A colorful, 32-foot-long tapestry titled “Christ Seated in Glory as the Lord of Creation” hangs above the sanctuary of Christ Cathedral. For Robert W. Artigo, this tapestry serves as a metaphor for the cathedral’s history, which he recounts in his recently released book “Neither Crystal nor Gold.”
Diocese of Orange Bishop Kevin W. Vann composed the Afterward for the book and in it he expressed gratitude to the many people who helped bring the story of Christ Cathedral to fruition.
“As the lights of the interior of the cathedral continue to shine into the darkness of the night, the cathedral continues to be a beacon –a sign of the Faith and the ‘work of many hands’ who helped to bring into life this ‘House of God’ and ‘Temple of the Lord,’” wrote Bishop Vann.
Weaving from the back, the tapestry’s makers could not see the image that its designer, Brother Martin Erspamer, had in mind as they worked. From the front, one sees only individual threads from close-up. The image of Christ is apparent only when one steps back and views it from a distance.
Artigo’s book explores not only the history of how the former Crystal Cathedral came to be built and its unlikely transformation into the cathedral for the Diocese of Orange, but also the underlying role of divine providence through the hands of individuals, from clergy to talented architects to successful entrepreneurs, who had no way of seeing what fruit God would yield from their efforts.
“This is the tapestry that the artist has chosen for us,” Artigo said. “The artist is God, and the artist says, ‘This is the image that you’re going to make, and this is what’s going to happen on the other side. You’re not going to be aware of what’s happening, but you’re going to get the fact that your stitches, your little parts, are going to matter.’”
When the renowned televangelist Dr. Robert Schuller shared his vision of a church clad entirely in glass with architect Philip Johnson, he could not have foreseen that this structure would one day become a Catholic cathedral. Similarly, when Bishop Tod Brown embarked on a plan to build a long-needed new cathedral for the Diocese of Orange, he had no idea that the cathedral the diocese needed had already been built and was far vaster and more ideally located than anything he could have hoped to afford.
Tim Busch, a businessman, attorney and Catholic philanthropist, was one of the earliest advocates for the acquisition of the cathedral by the diocese and was integrally involved in negotiating and fundraising for its purchase. Busch commissioned Artigo to write the book, desiring to preserve the building of the cathedral and its acquisition as part of diocesan history.
According to Busch, Artigo is a story writer. “What I didn’t want was an academic book. I wanted a story about people and a story about how the people of God worked with God through their Church to acquire this,” he said.
Busch and Artigo agreed that it was vital to include Schuller’s story in the book.
“These things don’t just happen. It takes grace, and it takes somebody very unusual,” Busch said. “In this instance, the somebody unusual was Dr. Schuller. He didn’t realize it, but he was building for 60 years the cathedral for Orange County.”
Busch noted that Schuller had to utilize not only his talents as a preacher but also his extraordinary fundraising abilities to realize his vision.
“He could raise money better than anybody in Orange County. He got billionaires, some of them were faith-based, and some of them just wanted to be on his team, and they donated money to build these facilities,” Busch said.
The book also recounts Bishop Brown’s ultimate decision to purchase the cathedral, as well as the numerous obstacles that had to be overcome to make the purchase possible, from obtaining Vatican approval, to competing with other potential buyers, to persuading Crystal Cathedral’s board of directors that this plan was truly the best way of continuing its legacy as a place of Christian worship. One of the more surprising turns of events was Schuller himself championing the diocese’s purchase of the cathedral he founded.
According to Busch, the location alone made the purchase an incredible value at $55 million. Including the buildings, Busch estimates the property’s value to be about $1 billion.
“I felt it was the providence of God that this was provided to us,” Busch said. “The cathedral is always supposed to be in the center of the diocese, and this church is smackdab in the center of Orange County … You couldn’t have found 30-some acres, flat, useable, with buildings on it, entitlements, freeways wrapped all the way around it, and it really genuflects to the North County, [which] is a very diverse population.”
Artigo and Busch agreed early on that the main character of the story was not a particular human being but the Holy Spirit working through countless individuals throughout the process.
“Whether you call them liberal or conservative, or you call them rich or poor, academic or business, all these people – clergy, bishops – they had to all come together,” Busch said. “We should always realize that God’s in charge. We just have to rely on His providence and His time.”