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Why: Simplicity and complexity meet in the Swedenborgian Church of San Francisco, and the marriage is a harmonious celebration of architecture and intellect.
What: The 1895 Swedenborgian Church of San Francisco, a national historic landmark in Pacific Heights, is an Arts and Crafts building designed by several architects, including Bernard Maybeck, who created the Palace of Fine Arts at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915 in San Francisco.
Inside the walls are rustic redwood, found often in Arts and Crafts buildings and consistent with the Swedenborgian appreciation of natural objects, according to the 1969 book “Here Today: San Francisco’s Architectural Heritage.” The chairs are maple, “made by hand, without the use of nails, and their seats were woven of tule rushes from the Sacramento River Delta,” the book says.
In the fireplace in the back, the andirons become small crosses, and the crackling fire (and recently installed radiant heat) make the church a warm and welcoming spot for quiet contemplation, especially on chilly San Francisco days (which is most of them).
It’s also a reminder of the man whose desire to understand Scripture caught fire when he was in his 50s. Emanuel Swedenborg was born Jesper Svedborg in 1688 in Stockholm. In “Swedenborg: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas,” author Gary Lachman describes Swedenborg as the “Scandinavian Da Vinci.” He was a scientist, poet, writer, mystic, statesman, inventor and biblical scholar.
After Swedenborg’s death in 1772 in London, societies took root that were devoted to contemplating his thoughts and works; the Bible is the center of these. These organizations made their way across the pond by the late 1780s, and the New Church (sometimes called New Jerusalem) began to spread in the United States.
Notable Swedenborgian churches include the Wayfarer’s Chapel in Palos Verdes, designed by Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright. The younger Wright was said to have taken his architectural inspiration for the chapel, dedicated in 1951, from Northern California’s redwoods.
Where: The Swedenborgian Church of San Francisco, 2107 Lyon St , is about 385 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.
Cost: Free. Services are at 11 a.m. Sundays. Office hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; knock to gain entry to the church.