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CURRENT ISSUE:  June 9, 2008
VOL. 46, NO. 11   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
Immigration issue is lower election priority
Measure to ban same-sex marriage
will be going before California voters
New cathedral includes mausoleum,
available to any Catholic in diocese
Construction on the new mausoleum is nearing completion as slabs of marble await placement in a corridor for crypts and niches.

When Christ the Light Mausoleum is blessed on Sept. 25 as part of the dedication of the new cathedral in downtown Oakland, the diocese will be continuing a burial tradition which has its origin in antiquity. Ever since the time of the Pharaohs in Egypt, mausoleums have been a choice for individuals who did not want to be buried in the ground. The first mausoleum was built in 353 B.C. for King Mausolus, from whose name the word “mausoleum” was derived.

Three centuries later, Gospel writer Luke recounts that Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. “He then took it down, wrapped it in a shroud and put him in a tomb which was hewn in stone in which no one had yet been laid.”

After the Christian persecutions, it was not uncommon for the dead to be buried adjacent to the church or below it in a crypt, explained Robert Seelig, director of Catholic funeral and cemetery services for the Oakland Diocese.

Centuries later, when large cathedrals were built in Western Europe, many of them included mausoleums or crypts where significant people in the community were interred. At St. Peter’s in Rome, for example, popes are buried in crypts below the church.

Mausoleums continue to be a part of many cathedrals in the 21st century, Seelig noted. Among them is the Los Angeles Archdiocese’s Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, dedicated in 2002. And now, the Cathedral of Christ the Light joins with that tradition.

“Where we are baptized and brought into the Christian faith has traditionally been at the church and thus in death, the deceased is brought back home to eternal rest which would often be in and around the church,” said Seelig.

Oakland’s new cathedral mausoleum is unique, Seelig emphasizes. It will be accessible to all Catholics in the diocese, including immediate family members who are non-Catholic. Christians who have a special connection to the Catholic community may also be buried there, said Bob Mallon, chair of the board of Catholic Cemeteries. “We take an ecumenical view in our mausoleum,” he said.
Individuals who are planning to have a family member interred will have the option of having the funeral service in the cathedral, based on the approval of the parish pastor and availability of the worship space, he said.

Entrance to Christ the Light’s mausoleum begins at street level on Harrison Street. A processional ramp inside the entryway descends gradually into a corridor, calling to mind a journey into the ancient catacombs. Two fountains at the entrance symbolize the connection to the baptismal font directly above in the cathedral.

Italian artisans are using white marble from this quarry in Carrara, Italy, to hand carve statues for the new mausoleum at the Cathedral of Christ the Light. Carrara is believed to be the site of the world’s finest while marble.
The corridor path leads directly to the catafalque, which is situated directly below the altar upstairs in the cathedral. The catafalque is an altar-like table for placement of the casket or cremation urn before final interment. It is being refurbished from the white granite altar of Oakland’s St. Francis de Sales Cathedral, which was irreparably damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and razed several years later.

When the body of the deceased is placed on the catafalque, there is a strong symbolic connection with the Eucharist, Seelig pointed out.

Translucent glass on the cathedral floor allows light to flow into the entire mausoleum, representing our connection to eternal life. There will be plenty of room for everyone to gather around the catafalque, he said.

Construction of the mausoleum costs approximately $6 million with that amount coming as a donation from Catholic Cemeteries. Seelig said his organization will operate the mausoleum on behalf of the Cathedral Corporation.

The mausoleum has 882 single and double crypts for casket placement and 1856 single and double niches for cremated remains. There are marble fronted niches for inscriptions and glass front niches that are designed to allow families to place personal artifacts for viewing within the niche space.

Spaces are priced similar to the costs of interments at the 10 diocesan cemetery mausoleums, said Seelig. Those families who have limited funds will not be turned away, he added, because a special arrangement has been established for their benefit.

“When discussions were underway regarding a mausoleum below the cathedral, there was a desire to raise funds for the endowment of the cathedral,” said Seelig. “At the same time we created a plan whereby it would be possible for any Catholic in the diocese to have access financially.”

Single crypts start at $8000 and go to $36,000. Double crypts range from $18,000 to $70,000. Single niches extend from $1,500 to $7,000, with double niches ranging from $9,500-to $20,000.

The more costly in both categories have fees which include a built-in, tax-deductible donation to the cathedral. “For instance, with a $5,000 niche, $2,600 of the amount would be considered a tax-deductible donation. These donations will be used to establish an endowment fund for the longterm care of the cathedral complex,” said Seelig.

Also featured in the mausoleum space will be four cenotaph walls. They will allow for the memorialization of the deceased who are placed there as well as for loved ones who may be interred elsewhere. The cost for these memorial plaques in both categories is $1,000 and part of the fee in each category is tax-deductible.

Besides the catafalque, other precious artifacts from St. Francis de Sales are a crucifix and six stained-glass pieces depicting St. Simon, St. Francis de Sales, St. Matthew, St. James Minor, St. Patrick and St. Thomas.

The crucifix will be installed in front of a crypt area reserved for 12 past, present and future diocesan bishops. Bishop Floyd Begin, first bishop of the Oakland Diocese, will be re-interred in the cathedral mausoleum from his current burial crypt at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Hayward on Nov. 2.

The stained-glass pieces from St. Francis de Sales Cathedral will be located along the mausoleum corridors.

Other artistic features include a white Carrara marble statue of St. Joseph, and one of Our Lady Queen of the World, patroness of the diocese. Both are being hand carved by Italian artisans at Tavarelli Marble Company in Carrara, site of the world’s finest white marble used for statuary. “This company dates back its roots to the time of Michelangelo and has a bill of sale for marble acquired by the artist,” said Seelig.

The floor is made from Impala Black granite with a finish that gives the feeling that the mausoleum has been carved out of the earth. Its dark color is offset on the walls with Carrara white marble and Egyptian Desert Gold marble, a material used in the ancient pyramids. Opaque onyx shutters — the pieces of marble that cover the front of a crypt or niche —will be placed both at the Bishops’ Crypts and near the six restored stained-glass windows. The onyx will be backlit to provide a warm glow to the interior space of the mausoleum.

For information about reserving space in the mausoleum, contact Bob Mallon at (510) 387-4366.

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