You can't live in—or even visit—San Francisco without seeing a large
pyramid-like building in the skyline. Many don't know that it's actually a Catholic
cathedral. But even fewer suspect the source of this building's power: RAW FEMALE
I'll start with the background: Saint Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco was designed by
architect Pier Luigi Nervi in 1971 and built amid an atmosphere of controversy. The
building has been described by many as resembling an overgrown washing machine agitator,
and several San Franciscans have taken to calling it "Our Lady of Maytag" for this
resemblance. Others find the swooping pyramid shape refreshingly modern for sacred
Catholic architecture. Yet the majority of visitors and residents still simply wonder
what that large white shape is on the San Francisco skyline West of downtown and uphill
of the Tenderloin.
Urban legend has it that when viewed from the correct angle at the proper time of day
when the heavenly bodies are aligned, that one can see the outline of a woman's breast in
the shadow cast on the side of the cathedral by one of its 'wings'. Urban legend also has
it that the Catholic Church sued the architect over the appearance of the breast,
claiming that the appearance of a naked breast on the side of a cathedral somehow mocks
the Church, which is reputed for being uptight about sexuality.
Interestingly enough, the first part of this urban legend is in fact true. Although the
outline is a caricature of a breast—no real women, even after surgery, have breasts
quite so large and defiant of gravity with such a complete lack of a ribcage—the
outline is clear, resembling the breast of the chrome woman who reclines on so many
truckers' mudflaps. St. Mary's needs be viewed from the Southwest in the midmorning.
Alamo Square is a good viewing location, and depending on the season, sometime between 9
and 10 in the morning is the appropriate time.
On the issue of the Catholic Church's lawsuit, extensive research shows no evidence that
the church ever filed suit against Nervi or even threatened to. The rumor could have
started by the "telephone game" effect after individuals associated with the church or
the Archdiocese made private commentary on the shape, but even this is idle speculation.
Do you see a
A more likely scenario seems more
sinister. Facing declining church attendance, did the Catholic Church hire Nervi to
create Saint Mary's Cathedral complete with the breast silhouette? Was the shape of the
cathedral meant to attract men back to the church with the architectural equivelant of
subliminal advertising? Just as the man with a whopper of an erection on the front of
every pack of Camel cigarettes lures smokers to feel more virile as they inhale
carcinogens, does the dealer of another legal—albeit metaphorical—drug, the
"opiate of the masses," use sex to sell?
This would make an ironic sort of sense. By preying upon the so-called baser instincts of
men, the church could in fact be reaching out to those that supposedly need ministering
the most: sinners. The righteous, after all, are already righteous.