Loving the Cruciform Church

cyprus kouka

The Church of the Holy Cross in Kouka, Cyprus. (12th century) Both simple and cruciform in design.

Is the shape of a church important for the Church?

The Church is the body of Christ. He is the head, we are the body. We are to imitate Him. We are to take up our cross and follow Him.

The way we worship expresses our love, devotion, and commitment to Christ — at least it should. We know this from experience, observation, and Scripture. The way we worship forms us and instills within us the truth of Christ. In this sense worship is also an act of education and training, like an athlete trains her body. The places we worship, and their design and construction, play a role in how our faith is formed.

We are His body. His body that hung on the cross and then rose to glory — we now take that on in a profound mystical sense. The cruciform church is in the shape both of a cross and of a body: head, arms, body, legs and feet. A church in the round, or fan shaped, or “deconstructed” in some modernist fashion, does not express in its form the body of Christ, or of the pilgrim Church carrying its cross.

Both church designs can celebrate the community of believers, but one does so more by declaring that the community is so because of Christ the head, the other declares community more as though it does not need Christ as head, but merely alongside. One says the Real Presence is truly present because Christ is the Real Presence and He is truly present in the Eucharist, the other says the Real Presence is there because Christians are present. One is more about appropriately connecting truth and emotion, the other more about feeding sentimentality. One is more suited for worship, the other more for entertainment. One says Christ is king, the other Jesus is my buddy.

The buildings in which we live, work, and worship silently form us in ways that we often do not notice until it’s too late. It takes conscious work to mentally overcome bad or ill-suited architecture (in all walks of life). It can be done, but it’s better not to have to.

I love the cruciform church. A church does not have to be cruciform to be excellent, but if one has the opportunity to build a church, why not timeless, why not cruciform? I don’t know why architects and bishops have given us so many non-cruciform, trendy-style churches in recent decades. Ironically, many are now stylistically passé. Perhaps they did it due to losing one’s way — bishops can do that just as can you or I. Perhaps its merely a symptom of losing an understanding of the incarnation. (But is that not losing one’s way?)

We have an incarnational faith. God became man. We are Christ’s body. Take up your cross.

A couple diagrams of larger, more complex, medieval cruciform churches:

Every part of the design has meaning. Nothing in the design is not connected in one way or another to the doctrines of the Church and the Catholic understanding of God, man, and the Gospel.

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Filed under Architecture, Church History, Curious

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