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Great Quake: San Francisco marks centennial of temblor, blaze


Diocese of California archives
St. John's Church.   (Diocese of California archives)

Diocese of California archives
St. Luke's Church   (Diocese of California archives)

[Episcopal News Service]  Among the resurrection stories told this Easter week in the Episcopal Diocese of California are centennial remembrances of San Francisco’s Great Earthquake and Fire, which struck the city on April 18, 1906, at 5:12 a.m., and killed as many as 3,000 people in its wake.

Diocesan archivist Michael Stroup and assistant archivist Suzanne Thompson, together with the Rev. John Rawlinson, are credited with recent efforts to document the role of Bay Area Episcopalians in relief efforts. Future history features are planned for the diocesan newspaper, The Pacific Church News, edited by Sean McConnell.

One historical account notes that then-Bishop William Ford Nichols was presented with $250 from the safe of St. Luke’s Hospital – an amount he divided among the clergy to assist urgent cases. The Crocker National Bank then received subsequent deposits for relief funds.

With a magnitude estimated between 7.7 and 8.3 on the modern Richter scale, the quake shook people from bed and left hundreds homeless. Many then occupied temporary tent cities. Fires burned for three days and leveled the business district.

On Nob Hill, the shell of the gutted Fairmont Hotel smoldered just down California Street from where Grace Cathedral’s current landmark church would be built on the site of the former Crocker Mansion.

At the cathedral on March 31, the choral ensemble Chanticleer performed the Renaissance masterpiece "Earthquake Mass," Missa et ecce terrae motus, by Antoine Brumel (c.1460-c.1515).

Critics call Brumel’s Earthquake Mass "a rarely-performed marvel, both in its virtuosic employment of 12 voices for almost its entire length and in its musical effects."

The work was named for the Easter antiphon "...and behold the earth moved."