As you make your way up the driveway of Mt. Calvary Monastery & Retreat House, your eyes will be drawn to The Great Cross.
The cross was commissioned by Any du Pont in 1947. She had traveled throughout Europe in search of just the right design for 20 ft. cross, deciding on a framework airy enough to let wind and light pass through it, but majestic enough to stand out. The bronze ornaments symbolize Jesus Christ’s suffering before his crucifixion.
Gunnar Thielst (1904-1993), a local wrought iron designer who had a studio in the El Paseo designed the cross working with the founder of Mount Calvary, Fr. Karl Tiedemann. He was restarting his business in 1947 as the WWII war effort had been rationing its iron and so he was delighted to accept the commission of Amy du Pont.
The cross stood in the courtyard of Mount Calvary Monastery on Gibralter Road from 1949 until 2014. On November 13, 2008 the Tea Fire consumed the buildings of the monastery but as was reported shortly after in the Santa Barbara Noozhawk, “What Thielst could not have known was that the iron he and his team spent months painstakingly bending and flexing would eventually be able to withstand a wildfire so intense it some places that even houses constructed with stone burned to the ground.”
Once the monastic community was resettled in its new home, a lengthy process of planning and city permits together with archeological findings but eventually the cross was moved to its current site on Los Olivos Street. A blessing service for the Mount Calvary Cross was held in 2014 and opened with the obvious hymn choice, “Lift High the Cross.”
The Great Cross remained in desperate need of cleaning and painting. The symbols which were blackened in the fire needed to have the bronze shined and restored. Br. Timothy Jolley oversaw that part of the restoration which is now completed. It is certain that Gunnar Thielst would be pleased to know that his family generously contributed to its current restoration.
Once again the Cross stands tall, welcoming the many pilgrims who enter the grounds of Mount Calvary for a time of prayerful rest and renewal.