I’ll be the first to admit that I’m one of “those” architecture junkies who aren’t fans of the design of the Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in downtown L.A. It just feels more like a modern art museum to me: a sentiment I’ve heard from many others as well.
Unfortunately, this opinion gets traction when others talk about their trips and many opt to skip it during their visit to the City of Angels. It’s quite sad because there are several treasures that one can miss by simply discounting the cathedral altogether based on its outward (and, okay, also inward) appearance.
For example, did you know that a piece of St. Mary of the Angels of Portincula, Assisi, yes, one of the saints of Italy, is on display for anyone to see? Yep, it’s true. I just saw it with my own two eyes this past week! However, these things are often missed because few people dare venture into the cathedral.
Want to know which 6 other relics you’re missing by skipping a trip to the cathedral? Just take a look at this list.
1. The tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe
No, the entire tilma hasn’t miraculously disappeared from the basilica in Mexico City and reappeared in Los Angeles. However, there is a small piece of it at the cathedral. Housed in a little golden “chapel” on the left-hand side (facing the altar), the relic is part of the archdiocese’s permanent collection.
It sits under a beautiful mosaic portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It is rare to see this chapel without any live roses under Our Lady’s portrait; the same “sign” she used to show the incredulous priests that St. Juan Diego was telling them the truth regarding her apparition all those centuries ago.
2. Pope St. John Paul II
If you’re a Gen-X or Millennial Catholic, odds are you are a St. JPII fan. Perhaps because he came to visit Los Angeles in 1987, there are a lot of relics around the City of Angels. Some are kept at Mission San Fernando, roughly 23 miles north-west of the cathedral. Others have been placed inside protective glass in a side chapel near the Blessed Sacrament on the right-hand side, not far from the entrance. One can see both a first-class relic as well as second-class relics (e.g. a zucchetto he wore) of this dynamic and charismatic saint; one of the few alive during our lifetime.
3. Pope St. John XXIII
Pope St. John Paul II isn’t the only saintly pope whose relics are also displayed within the cathedral. Sharing the same chapel and glass encloser as St. John Paul II’s relics, you can also find first-class relics of Pope St. John XXIII. A small piece of bone can be found on enclosed inside a golden cross. A second-class relic of his is also on display but it’s on loan from a parishioner of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church within the Los Angeles archdiocese.
4. St. Teresa of Calcutta
In another chapel, next to the one of the saintly popes, who will find a small relic of St. Teresa of Calcutta. Much like her style in life, both the chapel and her relic are small, unpretentious, and humble but, boy, do you feel the impact of it while you’re in front of it. A large portrait of her embodies her large presence and influence despite her small physical stature. Previously, these relics shared the same chapel as the ones that housed those of Pope St. John Paul II but now they have a new saint sharing her new location.
5. St. Jose Sanchez del Rio
In the same chapel where the relics of St. Teresa of Calcutta reside, you’ll find the most recently acquired relics; those of St. Jose Sanchez del Rio. You’ll find a first-class relic of his clavicle enclosed in a small glass case. Next to it is a bronze statue of the young martyred saint with the words, “Never, like today, has it been as easy to get into Heaven” (rough translation) in Spanish. On the walls you’ll see a picture of him as a young boy, making his first communion, the last photograph we have of him, as well as a copy of the letter he wrote to his mother when he was imprisoned during the Cristero War. If you speak or read Spanish, don’t worry; an English translation is also provided for you.
6. St. Vibiana
Few people think about going down to the mausoleum, thinking all the relics are kept upstairs but doing so would be a mistake! The relics of St. Vibiana, a third-century virgin martyr and the patroness of the Los Angeles archdiocese, are kept in a chapel at one of the ends of the mausoleum. Sadly, because of the location of the relics (encased in a white and gold marble casket) and the little that is known of her (her only patronage is the Archdiocese of Los Angeles), many people tend to skip it. But, hey, I know you’re curious so please go say a prayer in front of her relics. With so few people visiting her, odds that she will intercede for you are probably greater. Probably.
If you want to spend time in prayer at any or each of these chapels, there are kneelers and candles ready for anyone wishing to light one up for their intentions. Donations are usually suggested at $2 per candle but you can donate more if you’d like.
Next time you’re in the City of Angels, don’t let the cathedral’s façade keep you away from spending quality time with some of the church’s most influential and inspiring saints. Instead, take the time to let these relics remind you of why you’re Catholic (or wanting to become Catholic) as well as the beauty of our faith. You won’t be sorry.
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