Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition – Garden Grove

Renaissance Man

Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition – Garden Grove


Visited: May 2019

On an evening in Southern California (not Roma, or specifically Vatican City), Tracy asked (quite out of the blue), “Why don’t we visit the Sistine Chapel this weekend?” While I looked on perplexed (quite normal for me), pondering how we were going to catch a flight to Rome and how much it would cost, she continued by saying there was an exhibition called Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition at Christ Cathedral (formerly the Crystal Cathedral) in Garden Grove.  It runs through January 2020.

We have been to the real Sistine Chapel a couple of times.  You’re herded into the chapel with a few million of your closest friends and given a scant amount of time to check out Michelangelo’s remarkable frescoes, at least the ones you can see before you start getting neck cramps.  (There are no photos allowed in the real Sistine Chapel, so this from my friend the internet).

On the exhibition’s website it states, “With special expertise and care, the ceiling paintings from the Sistine Chapel have been reproduced using state of the art technology. In order for the observer to fully engage and comprehend the artwork, the paintings have been reproduced in their original sizes. The overwhelming impression for the observer will be the dimensions of the art, the closeness to the picture, and the modern style of the exhibition. As a result, the visitor can explore the artwork up close at a distance impossible to achieve in the Sistine Chapel.”  We purchased our tickets online, and on the following morning we drove to Vatican City …uh, Orange County … not knowing what to expect.

For one thing, Christ Cathedral does not look anything like the cathedrals we have toured in Europe (or any place else for that matter).

Quick mini history tour: Protestant (Reformed Church of America) televangelist Rev. Robert Schuller began preaching on top of a snack bar at the Orange Drive-In Theater.  As the congregation grew, the Crystal Cathedral was constructed in 1961 (not without its fair share of controversy). By 2010, it (including Schuller’s Hour of Power weekly television show) had incurred $55 million of debt, and the church’s board filed for bankruptcy.

A federal judge approved selling the Crystal Cathedral for $57.5 million in 2012, and it was purchased by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange (who had been seeking to construct a bigger and more modern cathedral).  It has undergone an extensive $77 million renovation, and was dedicated on July 17 of this year.  The new cathedral holds more than 2,200 people and contains “one of the largest musical instruments in the world, the Hazel Wright Memorial organ.” (photo from internet since no one was allowed inside the weekend we visited).

As Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne noted, the renovated cathedral has “far more in common with the nearby Matterhorn at Disneyland, the Biosphere in Arizona or the domes of Buckminster Fuller than with any cathedral in Europe.”

We weren’t there for the cathedral, however.  We had a date with a Renaissance artist, and, as a Renaissance Man (only because I look like someone born in the early 1500s), I was ready.  If you wonder why it took me so long to send this post out, since this report revolves mainly around Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling frescoes, I wrote the entire article while lying on my back.  Ah, the agony and the ecstasy of it all!

How hard was it for Michelangelo to paint the vault?  In his own words: “I’ve already grown a goiter from this torture, hunched up here like a cat in Lombardy (or anywhere else where the stagnant water’s poison).   My stomach’s squashed under my chin, my beard’s pointing at heaven, my brain’s crushed in a casket, my breast twists like a harpy’s. My brush,  above me all the time, dribbles paint so my face makes a fine floor for droppings!”

Arriving early, Tracy and I toured the grounds of the Christ Cathedral “Campus,” first viewing a statue of Moses. I told Tracy, “I believe he’s saying take two tablets and call me in the morning.”  Tracy quickly raced ahead of me in case I was struck by lightning.


We passed by a sculpture entitled “The Prodigal Son” and witnessed Jesus walking on water.


Nearby was a tower, which we found out later contains bells that do not ring.  Constructed in 1968, the Tower of Hope is topped by a 90-foot cross. It was at one time the tallest building in Orange County. Those bells were donated by Walt Disney and are known as the “Disney Bells.”

Mai Tai Tom Fun Fact:  Why don’t they ring? They’re made of fiberglass.

It was time to visit the Sistine Chapel (located in The Cathedral Cultural Center).  We learned a little of the history behind how Michelangelo reluctantly accepted the Sistine Chapel job.  He fashioned himself a sculptor, not a painter, but when he arrived in Rome in 1505 to design a huge tomb for Pope Julius II, the pope threw him a changeup and ordered him to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Detouring from Julius’ directive to have the 12 Apostles as the main theme, starting in 1508 “Michelangelo expanded the vision to create a sweeping biblical tale spanning from the creation through Noah and the great flood.  Painting by himself, perched on self-designed scaffolding, over the next four-plus years, Michelangelo embarked on an unmatched artistic journey.”  

As we walked into the exhibition, I have to admit our first inclination was that this was going to be a bust, because at first glance it seemed this was just going to be a cartoonish way to display his fresco cycle.  We were wrong.

Interspersed throughout the exhibit are 35 photographic reproductions. They include “full-sized renditions of ceiling panels, and two 40-foot by 40-foot renderings of the massive ‘The Last Judgement fresco.”  The best part, you don’t need a neck brace afterward, because these reproductions are right in front of you, and the ones on the ceiling are easy to look at, too.


There are descriptions about each individual frame (below), and there’s also interesting graphics showing where on the ceiling the panels located.  It was an innovative idea.


Here are some of the panels we found the most interesting.  The interior lighting did not lend itself to taking the best photos, but unlike the actual Sistine Chapel, you can at least take as many as you’d like.  As you saw in the description above, Michelangelo depicted The Prophet Ezekiel as an old man. Although a prophet, Ezekiel was unable to tell me when his namesake running back for the Dallas Cowboys would return to the team.


There’s plenty of Sibyls, who I learned were “women in ancient times that supposedly uttered the oracles and prophecies of a God, or basically, a woman who is able to foretell the future.” And here I thought Sibyls were shepherds.  Below are The Erythraean Sibyl, The Delphic Sibyl and The Cumaean Sibyl.


The Creation Of Eve is the “central painting on the chapel’s arched ceiling.”  While Adam takes a nap, Eve stretches out to her “Creator.”

I believe this is entitled Angel with Bandaged Arm and Wrinkled Pants.  It was removed from the exhibition shortly thereafter.

The Prophet Isaiah foretold the death of “The Messiah” back in the 8th century BC.

In his busy week, God had to create the world before any people, so in God Separates The Water From The Heavens, he does his work.

There are a few Noah frames, including The Drunkenness Of Noah, where he passed out naked after drinking too much of his own wine. Obviously, he was a San Diego State graduate.

The Great Flood represents the punishment “inflicted by God” for the sins of mankind.  Only Noah (now sober) and his family were spared from this 40 days and nights of rain.  No unicorns were harmed in this depiction.


The Prophet Jonah supposedly spent three days and three nights inside the whale that swallowed him.  It supposedly foretells the tale of Jesus from the time of his crucifixion until his Resurrection.

Goliath can be heard singing I Ain’t Got No Body before David delivers the fatal blow.

The most famous painting in the fresco is undoubtedly The Creation Of Adam.  It remained the most famous finger until E.T.

The Last Judgement tells us who’s going to heaven and hell when Christ reappears.  It was created a quarter century after the completion of the ceiling frescoes and contains nearly 400 figures.

The now 60-year old Michelangelo designed it, and the fresco stretched across the entire western wall located behind the altar.

Before leaving we watched an educational film designed for children, but which had adults in attendance captivated (including us). artrageous with Nate is an Emmy Award winning video series, and this one told the tale of Michelangelo from his upbringing to creating the fresco style.  It was funny, educational, and so clever that I wished they’d done this while I was a kid.


Back outside Tracy pointed to a statue. I thought it was a hint for me to go back to work until I realized I had the pronunciation wrong.


We ducked into the Cathedral Memorial Garden, where the Schuller family lies in rest.


This family name rang a bell.

Pianist Roger Williams, who some consider the greatest pianist of popular music of the 20th Century is also here. Although he is known by many for Born Free, we figured it was more expensive for the interment.

Some of the niches were quite colorful.

Back outside there were some lovely gardens to stroll through …

… while admiring some of the sculptures.


While Christ Cathedral might not be our cup of wine (too modern for my taste) …


Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition turned out to be surprisingly fun and informative.

We spent a lot more time reading and learning about the fresco cycle and finding where they were located on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  Although we were skeptical at first, we thought the experience was well worth the money.  Added bonus … no jet lag.

Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition
Christ Cathedral
13280 Chapman Avenue
Garden Grove, CA 92840
Phone: 323.935.6000
Hours: Daily 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Cost: $18 • Seniors, Military, College Students with ID $12 • Kids (7-18) $9
Parking: Lot (free)

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