Dr. Denis McNamara gave two lectures on Church architecture, sweeping quickly through many aspects of Church design, classical architecture, the meaning of many details that easily get overlooked, and why it matters. The amount of interesting information in these talks is amazing and, I believe, a lot more important than most Christians realize or probably would care to know but should. Denis is also one of the three voices on one of the best Catholic podcasts anywhere, The Liturgy Guys.
I believe there is a “movement” afoot within the Church (and perhaps beyond) to return in some way to earlier church building designs. In other words, to return to churches that look like churches and architecturally “speak” the language of the the sacred (and more specifically of Catholic theology).
This talk above speaks to that. Erik Bootsma essentially encapsulates the same message, with many of the same examples, found in Michael Rose’s book Ugly as Sin: Why They Changed our Churches from Sacred Places to Meeting Spaces — and How We Can Change Them Back Again.
I have to say I am swayed by the arguments. I say this as someone who loves modern art and architecture. In fact, many of the modernist churches Bootsma shows in his presentation I love as architecture. Still, they are not appropriate as churches for the reasons he points out.
And yet, I don’t believe it’s appropriate for us to return to the past in some slavish way. The way forward is to understand what the purpose of Church architecture is all about and what it is (or should be) trying to accomplish. Then to use that knowledge to create appropriate works for our times. However, as Christians we are both of our time and of the age to come. In other words, there is a timeless aspect to Christian experience, and so it should be with its art. So looking to the past is critical in order to move forward.
Related link: Catholic Art Guild