St Sophia Cathedral – Los Angeles

My Big, Gorgeous Greek Cathedral

St Sophia Cathedral InteriorSt Sophia Cathedral – Los Angeles

Visited: February 23, 2016

When we travel to Europe (or anywhere else for that matter), I’m always intrigued by churches…especially their interiors.  Why?  I haven’t a clue. It doesn’t matter what the denomination, churches fascinate me, even when they’re not serving wine.  Yet at home, I haven’t searched out many interesting places of worship in my immediate area. That all changed yesterday.  While in downtown Los Angeles for business (yes, work happens; even for the semi-retired), I decided to make a slight diversion on the way home to stop by a famous Greek Orthodox cathedral I’d read was located just south of Koreatown (perhaps it was built here to save your Seoul, although at the time of its construction there was a larger Greek community located here).

St Sophia Cathedral ExteriorAfter parking (I had heard that this could be an area that has a high crime rate, but at noontime, it seemed safe), I caught my first glimpse of St Sophia Cathedral. The Greek Orthodox community of Los Angeles dates back to the early 20th century when services were held in a warehouse.

They had long wanted a cathedral, and thanks to some movie mogul brothers, it came to fruition. Greek-born Charles Skouras, a movie executive, vowed: “that if God granted him success in Hollywood, he would build a Greek Orthodox cathedral in Los Angeles.”  It seems as if Charles’ prayers must have been answered when he became the head of National Pictures (his brother Spyros, a former sheepherder in Greece, became the head of 20th Century Fox while his other brother, George, headed up Universal).

charles-p-skouras-with-brothers-spyros-and-george-posing-by-plaqueIn 1948, the brothers funded the construction of Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in what used to be Los Angeles’ Greek neighborhood. The Byzantine-style cathedral opened in 1952 and at no time did the architect say, “It’s all Greek to me.”

P1050712Sadly, Charles did not get to enjoy the fruits of his labor for long, as he passed away two years later.  At one point, Charles was the highest-salaried executive in the world.

Saint Sophia Cathedral is patterned after Saint Sophia of Constantinople (now Istanbul).  The cathedral is dedicated to the ‘Holy Wisdom of God’ (‘Agia Sophia’ in Greek). It is designated as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.

The exterior of the church is nice enough with its ever-present green dome, but inside is where movie magic met religion. The interior is jaw-droppingly gorgeous and looks like it could be the inside of one those grand old-time movie theaters (something Charles also had experience in designing).

P1050770After walking through a small entry room with “small” chandeliers…

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…I entered the expansive church and, except for the light filtering in through the stained-glass windows, it was completely dark…

P1050841…at least for about a minute until the big chandeliers came on.  Wow!

P1050874             St Sophia's Cathedral Inside

There are 17 Czechoslovakian crystal chandeliers hanging down from its elegant ceiling. They supposedly all weigh 2,000 pounds apiece, although I didn’t Czech each one.

P1050879Along the side walls are 12 massive stained glass windows depicting the 12 Apostles of Christ.

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Some looked a little grumpy.  At the time I was there, the sun streaming in made them even more beautiful.

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The soaring dome above the center of the church contains a massive likeness of Christ.

P1050871Depicted clockwise around him are “The Evangelists”; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  The dome is 30 feet in diameter (90-feet high) with an inscription taken from the New Testament: “I Am the Light of the World. He who believes in me shall not walk in darkness but have the light of life.”  It also contains 24 windows around the periphery.

Gold, bronze and marble line the altar. There is a gold leaf pulpit.

P1050854This cathedral must have cost more than the making of Cleopatra (the movie whose extraordinary budget cost Spyros his job as head of 20th Century Fox).

P1050853Above the altar is an enormous painting of the Virgin Mary (aka “Theotokos” in Greek) and Child, her arms outstretched.

P1050858She’s hard to miss from the moment you walk in.

P1050872The Bishop’s Throne is flanked by a couple of lions denoting “the responsibility and authority of the ‘Despota,’ as he governed the church. The lions “symbolize the strength of Christ and the Gospel as proclaimed by episcopal authority.” 

P1050763A painting of a double-headed eagle, facing east and west, is located behind the backrest of the Throne. It was the emblem of the Byzantine Empire since, at one time, Byzantium was considered the center of civilization looking toward the east. (photo is from a Life Magazine story on the cathedral with Charles sitting on the throne).

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On one side of the Nave floor is a bronze-and-copper Baptismal font.  According to their website, “This font is self-contained in that it has both hot-and-cold running water.”

P1050859On the other side is a wooden sepulcher, or Kouvouklion, which is “an elaborate, hand-carved olive-wood church accouterment that was imported from Greece.”

P1050860                                              P1050862

The 55 paintings surrounding the Nave are inspired by scripture and holy tradition.  On the wall, as you enter the cathedral, I saw Moses holding those tablets containing the 15 (I mean 10) commandments (I have to stop watching Mel Brooks’ movies).

P1050867Throughout the cathedral, the walls are covered with superb paintings.

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Before leaving, I took a photo looking back toward the entrance of the church…

P1050864…and then one last inside photo of this incredible space.


I also learned that the funeral of Telly Savalas was held here in 1994. “Who loves ya, baby?”

CooxjMnx_xg_market_maxres-660x330Members include Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, who is a Greek American. They were married at Saint Sophia.

On the side of the cathedral, I was impressed by the huge doors that led to Saint Sophia.

P1050779Outside is a statue, “Resurrection Of The Fallen”...

P1050774…and nearby is Saint Constantine Chapel…

P1050780…which contains the crypt of Charles Skouras.

P1050783According to the website Find A Grave (God bless the internet…you can find anything), “Charles attended services in a special lighted pew. Upon his death, he was honored with burial in a special crypt on the church property.”

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From September 6 – 8, Saint Sophia Cathedral will hold the annual L.A. Greek Fest, “which features Byzantine art, delicious Mediterranean cuisine, Cathedral tours, entertainment, dancing, carnival-style games for the kids, and a host of other activities.” It’s supposed to be a very fun event to attend.

P1050769If you’re ever in the downtown Los Angeles area, take a few minutes out of your day and visit this incredibly gorgeous cathedral. It’s quite remarkable, and for just a few minutes you’ll think you’ve been transported to another country.
Saint Sophia Cathedral
1324 South Normandie Avenue (about 1/2 mile off the 10 Freeway)
Los Angeles, California 90006

Cathedral Visiting Hours:

Monday: – Closed
Tuesday – Friday: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Saturday: 10:00 am – 2:00 pm
Sunday: 12:30 pm – 2:00 pm

Parking lot & there is street parking nearby (free…but sometimes tough to find a spot)