The outsider tends to think of San Francisco as irreligious city.
Cable cars, the Golden Gate Bridge and LGBT pioneers are among things so-called “Baghdad by the Bay” is easily recognized for, but San Francisco has an array of beautiful structures, including many houses of worship such as Grace Cathedral, Sherith Israel synagogue, Saint Ignatius Church, Saints Peter and Paul Church and Mission Dolores, the oldest surviving structure in the city, dating to 1776.
Other noteworthy houses of worship are less well known. Take Saint Francis Lutheran Church, the only Lutheran church in the world to be named for the Italian (Catholic) saint.
Located on Church Street, near the intersection of Market Street in the Castro District, Saint Francis Lutheran dates back to just before the devastating 1906 Earthquake. By the time of the disaster, the main floor meeting hall had been completed and was in use, but the sanctuary above was still unfinished.
The earthquake damaged the sanctuary, but the main floor was left intact and was used by the Red Cross as a hospital and shelter for the injured and homeless.
The red-brick church was constructed in a Danish-Gothic style, modified in the Nordic tradition, according to NoeHill in San Francisco, a website dedicated to San Francisco historical sites.
It possesses a wooden steeple and features a stone foundation and steps. In the sanctuary are copies of two masterpieces by Danish sculptor Berte Thorvaldsen (1770-1844).
San Francisco, like much of California, received a wide array of immigrants from many parts of the world following the 1849 Gold Rush. Danish immigration to California began in the San Joaquin Valley and gradually moved to Fresno and then north to the Bay Area and San Francisco.
For many years, religious services in San Francisco were performed by Lutheran clergy dispatched more than 180 miles from Fresno, according to NoeHill in San Francisco.
Around 1900, when the Danish community in San Francisco had reached a size to warrant its own church, the community wrote to Queen Louise of Denmark asking for financial assistance. The monarch sent a gift of 500 Kroner, which formed the basis of the building fund.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the area around the church was populated mainly by Scandinavians and Germans. For many years, the neighborhood supported five Lutheran churches, each holding services in a different language: Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Finnish and German.
Over the years, as English became the common tongue the various Lutheran congregations merged. In 1964, a Danish and Finnish congregation merged and named the new congregation in honor of San Francisco’s patron saint, Saint Francis.
(Top: 111-year-old Saint Francis Lutheran Church, in San Francisco’s Castro District.)