The World’s Smallest Cathedral

The World’s Smallest Cathedral

During this holiday season people begin to go to church more often. Some like to see things they have not seen before. Like Cathedrals; which are supposed to be magnificent structures with tall, heavenward spires, gargoyles, flying buttresses and breathtaking interiors. Think St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris and the newest grand edifice, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles.

Well here in Laguna Beach we do things a little differently! One of our most famous cathedrals, St. Francis by-the-Sea, is small. So small, in fact, that it held a spot for a while in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s smallest cathedral.

Yet the interior and exterior are, in their own way, breathtaking. Maybe it has to do with how small the cathedral is while presiding as the seat of authority for the American Catholic Church. The structure may be small but it’s what inside that counts, says Talarczyk, the Church’s 38 year veteran Pope.

This little Cathedral on Park Avenue is nestled into a space as narrow as an alley and only hits a height of 30 feet. This 1,053-square-foot house of worship can seat 50 or so comfortably, 75 with folding chairs set up in the narrow aisles. Yet it has a choir loft and an organ.

The stained-glass windows are original from the time the cathedral’s construction in 1933, and colorful Spanish tiles decorate walkways, steps and arches. The altar is little more than an indentation yet has the aura of sanctity.

Wood beams, which spread across the breadth of the interior, were years ago ornately inscribed with spiritual messages, reflecting Laguna’s early bohemian character: “The Church of the New Age,” “Spiritual Healing” and “Meditate Upon the Chakras.”

The Cathedral Chapel of St. Francis by-the-Sea, as it is formally known, was built with material from the rubble of the Long Beach earthquake. “The benches were brought from a larger church and cut in two and made to fit,” Talarczyk said.

This American Catholic Church was almost demolished in 1993 when a city survey tagged it as a brick structure in need of seismic retrofitting. Offerings to the tiny church barely covered the light bill, Talarczyk said, and the $50,000 price tag was beyond the church’s reach. But donations and loans saved the tiny cathedral from the wrecker’s ball.

St. Francis by-the-Sea isn’t just a treasure to Laguna Beach: It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. So this holiday season do something different do something historic come stay at one of our Laguna Beach vacation rentals and go visit this little church by the sea.

430 Park Ave, 949-497-4678