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COLUMN ONE

Crypts That Keep On Giving

* Beneath the new L.A. cathedral, a massive mausoleum will hold thousands of remains, and generate an endowment to pay for operating expenses.

February 08, 2002|MARY McNAMARA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With a starting price of $2,000 per square foot, it will be by far the city's costliest address. And its most exclusive--residency is strictly by invitation and based on one's personal goodness and contribution to the community. On the downside, space is available in one standard lot: 8 feet by 3 feet with a 2 1/2-foot ceiling. On the upside, utilities are included and ownership is guaranteed for eternity.

Beneath the Spanish marble floor of the almost-finished Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels is a mausoleum that promises to be the most prestigious Catholic burial place in the city, if not the country. With almost 1,300 crypts and 5,000 niches for cremated remains, it is one of the largest cathedral burial vaults in the world, and certainly the grandest premeditated design. The Basilica in St. Peter's may have more graves beneath its floor, but that's because it was built above an existing cemetery.

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Saturday February 9, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 1 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Cathedral architect--A story in Friday's Section A on the crypts beneath the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles incorrectly spelled the name of the cathedral architect. His name is Jose Rafael Moneo.

Many Catholic cathedrals and churches have small crypts, often beneath the altar, for bishops and other notable clergy and perhaps a few lay people deemed extraordinary by the archdiocese: kings or queens, perhaps a wealthy family that paid for the building, a great artist. But no American cathedral has what amounts to a full-blown mausoleum in its basement. St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, for example, has but 14 crypts; all the former New York bishops are buried there, as well as Pierre Toussaint, a former slave who died in 1853 and is a candidate for canonization.

Plans call for the remains of five of California's bishops to be interred in Our Lady; they are to be moved from their current resting place in East L.A.'s Calvary Cemetery when the new cathedral downtown on Temple Street is consecrated in the fall. St. Vibiana, the patroness of the archdiocese of Los Angeles who also rests at Calvary, will also be interred beneath the cathedral. She will have her own chapel, which is adjacent to the mausoleum.

But many crypts will be made available to select supporters of the archdiocese, including those who made substantial donations to the construction of the cathedral.

The archdiocese says it does not have any sort of "A list" yet. But officials acknowledge that major donors to the cathedral could be considered. They include Sir Daniel Donohue, head of the Dan Murphy Foundation, which contributed the initial $25 million; Rupert Murdoch and his former wife, Anna, who gave $10 million; Betsy Bloomingdale; Roy and Patty Disney; former Mayor Richard Riordan; former Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley; comedian Bob Hope; and former talk show host Merv Griffin. Many of them--Murdoch, Roy Disney, O'Malley, Hope and Riordan--were awarded papal knighthoods, the highest honor a pope can bestow on a meritorious lay person, in 1998.

Anyone can request crypt burial, but the selection rests with the archbishop, now Cardinal Roger M. Mahony. Those chosen do not have to be Catholic; church policy throughout the diocese allows an individual who is married to a Catholic or who comes from a Catholic family to be buried in consecrated ground, and that will hold true in the cathedral. But those invited will have to pay for the honor. Considerably.

There is not yet a price list for the resting places, but officials say they are looking at the crypts as an ongoing fund-raiser. Revenues would go into an endowment, which, they hope, will pay for the upkeep and maintenance of the cathedral. How much will that be?

"Until we have at least a year up and running, we really won't know," said Tod Tamberg, spokesman for the archdiocese of Los Angeles. Ballpark figures, based on the budget of New York's St. Patrick's, run about $3.5 million a year. According to Tamberg, the suggested donations for the crypts will be based on the needs of the endowment.

"Let's put it this way," said another church official. "The crypts cost us about $20,000 apiece. So they aren't going to be cheap." A starting price of $50,000, he added, would not be unreasonable.

For space in the semiprivate chapels, of which there are six, or a crypt near the 26 stained-glass windows and lunettes brought over from the original cathedral, the cost will be considerably more. The four crypts in the sarcophagus directly under the altar are the most exalted: When the name of one millionaire was mentioned, it was jocularly suggested by one church official that he could not afford such an honor.

Like a 'Sky Box' for Deceased VIPs

There is some uneasiness arising about commercial considerations in such a sacred place. "It's the ecclesiastical equivalent of a sky box," said one theologian who declined to be named. On the other hand, making the cathedral self-supporting certainly is an answer for those who contend that the construction money could be better spent aiding the poor and the suffering.

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