Saturday, April 17, 2010

St. Cecilia Church, San Francisco

This is the second in my series of posts about the wood carving done by my great-grandfather, Samuel Berger. Sam Berger's work has not been recorded, and this is my attempt to chronicle some of his work in a series of postings. I'm hoping that this will be a helpful resource/reference for my family, as well as anyone interested in California/San Francisco history or wood carving.

This post is a little long (lots of photos), so bear with me as I go through!

Exterior: St. Cecilia Church, San Francisco

My Great-Grandfather, Samuel Berger emigrated to San Francisco in 1904 from Bucharest, Romania, where he learned his trade as a second generation wood carver. I was fortunate enough to have known him; he died in 1970 when I was ten years old. He was the sweetest, most humble man.

Sam's woodcarvings grace some of California's most beautiful public and private buildings. His works can be found in many churches in San Francisco including, Grace Cathedral, Basilica of Mission Dolores, St. Peter and Paul's, Star of the Sea, St. Anne's and St. Brigid's, to name of few. Some of his crowning achievements were at Hearst Castle at San Simeon where he did most of his wood carving. Sam collaborated with the renowned architect, Julia Morgan, on much of his work.

church exterior
Thursday's journey began with a visit to St. Cecilia Catholic Church in San Francisco. My friend Renee and I took the day off, and what a treat it was to see this church in person. It was spectacular! We were greeted by the lovely Mary Scanlan, a longtime staff member, who shared stories with us, such as the altar of the church being a smaller replica of the Basilica of Rome.

St. Cecilia church saw many different locations in San Francisco. The current St. Cecilia, Colonial Spanish in design, is breathtaking in person. Its construction is reinforced concrete and cast-stone trim, with a roof of variegated Spanish tile, random-laid. We were told that much of the church design was influenced by France and Italy.

main church interior

We were introduced to Alvin Martin, Parish Manager, who was so very helpful in showing us around and identifying some of my unidentified old family photos of Sam's work that matched with some of the pieces in the church. Being Jewish, I'm not that familiar with some of the names of the pieces and what they represent or symbolize. Alvin was quite helpful in explaining. The pieces of the puzzle were starting to come together.

It was overwhelming to see and touch the magnificent work that my great-grandfather did. I can't even imagine...all hand carved.

Photo I located of Sam's carving of the Baldacchino (canopy) and crucifix located on the main altar of the church

The magnificent altar. The Baldacchino, crucifix, ceilings and altar railings, all carved by Sam Berger.

These are amazing in person. Such intricate carving.

Sacred Heart of Jesus before being painted
This Sacred Heart of Jesus was in one of my photo albums, among many other random photos of Sam's work. I had no idea that this piece was from St. Cecilia Church.

Sacred Heart of Jesus after completion
Our Blessed Mother before completion

Our Blessed Mother after completion. Isn't she beautiful?

The main altar railings, also carved by Sam BergerChurch pewsnotice the detailed carvingThe Ambon

He also carved all of the Stations of the Cross

Magnificent confessionals carved by Sam

close-up of confessionals

stained glass windows grace the interior of the church

The Lady's Chapel outside the main chapel - so ornate in person. Sam carved much of the work in the chapel, including the magnificent ceilings...

It's difficult to show just how incredible the carving of these ceilings are in person. It's truly overwhelming.

I can't imagine how many months, years (?) it took my great-grandfather to carve these...

The Baptismal font with Sam's carving on the back wall, and quite possibly on the font itself

Renee and I outside of St. Cecilia

Exterior of St. Cecilia School

There is even an ocean view from the church (can you see it in the background?)

What a glorious day it was at St. Cecilia's. One I'll never forget. Next week we're off to Grace Cathedral to see more of Sam's work. Thanks for joining me on my journey!

St. Cecilia Church
2555 17th Avenue
San Francisco, California 94116

photo credits: most photos, Lynn Goldfinger, Ambon & Stations of the Cross: Peg Harrison, black & white photos: family archives

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing! I appreciate learning about the people who contributed to the neighborhood in which I live. Best wishes on discovering all your great grandfather's work.