Tag Archives: church architecture

Chartres Cathedral: An ideal for church design today.

Not all of us can regularly go to Mass in a cathedral of great beauty. Most Catholics have available to them rather humdrum works of architecture for their local parish. But it’s still possible to find beautiful small churches where careful attention to detail and the meaning of form went into their design. And yet, that still relatively rare.

The following video is an excellent look at one of the crown jewels of Catholic cathedrals, Chartres Cathedral in France. This comes from the “Smarthistory. art, history, conversation” YouTube channel. As you watch it, consider how much thought went into this building, and then consider the church where you regularly go to Mass. My point here is not to highlight the great beauty of Chartres compared to the humble local parish, but how carefully the design and the details were thought through and realized in Chartres. Can we achieve such excellence again? And can we achieve something of this in our local parishes? I believe we can and should.

Of course, very few parishes have the resources to build large and lavish churches, but often a church that achieves the right virtue of proper “churchness” is not a matter of resources, or size, or expensive materials, as it is of basic understanding and will. What I mean is that having the right understanding of what a church is and ought to be, and applying one’s minds carefully to its design, even a small church in a small parish can be a work of architecture worthy of worshiping Christ and elevating the faithful to Heaven.

I am surprised at how apparently ignorant so many Catholics are, including many in the hierarchy, about basic church architecture–or seem to be so. Churches are where we celebrate Mass. This is no small matter. Although, perhaps most Catholics are not as ignorance and not caring about such things, believing they are unimportant. However, the church building itself, though not absolutely necessary for celebrating Mass is, nonetheless, the normative place of worship. In it we meet the Real Presence of our Lord and savior, the King of Kings. If we take worship seriously then we should take church design seriously, including for the humble local parish Church. Catholics used to. But we haven’t for some time now. We must again.

I have frequently posted on this and related topics, for example here.

I also love how the speakers in the above video, Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris, don’t shy away from orthodox Catholic dogma. This is not a video where the information presented has a condescending tone toward faith and believers. I have no idea if they are Catholics or not, but they just say things as though they are relating how Catholics ought to think of these things. I think this is the best way to present something like Chartres Cathedral. The viewer can make up their own mind, but at least one should know what the builders of Chartres believed and what led to make the kinds of decisions they did.

I have also been reading an excellent book, Visions of Mary : art, devotion, and beauty at Chartres Cathedral by Rev. Jill Kimberly Hartwell Geoffrion. She is a scholar, photographer, and Episcopalian priest who has come to love Chartres and Catholic history. (I pray she takes the leap and become Catholic–perhaps not easy for a woman who is an Episcopalian priest. She would have to give up some things precious to her.) This book takes a look at aspects that speak directly to the Holy Mother, her role in the life of the Church, and how Catholics (especially in times past) think of Mary. It does so by focusing and meditating on specific details of the cathedral. This book makes me want to go to Chartres and spend some significant time with the Cathedral, taking pictures and making sketches and just attending to it.

As I see it, architects should look at Chartres, and similarly excellent Catholic churches, as inspiration to how they should think about church design in general, and then apply that understanding to every Catholic church building, even the most humble and simple of churches. I also believe the faithful should know these things too, being encouraged in the faith, but also demanding churches actually be Catholic in their designs.

Of course, church design tends to flow from intended use, thus a church designed to serve the needs of the Traditional Latin Mass will necessarily look different than one designed to serve the needs of a Novus Ordo Mass. This is why, when the Novus Ordo was promulgated, so many older churches had their altar rails removed, altars brought closer to the nave, and other changes because the Novus Ordo felt wrong in a traditional space. And this is also why the Novus Ordo still feels out of place in a traditional church even after those kinds of changes have been made, because arches, stained glass, cruciform floor plans, and other harder-to-change elements don’t fit the New Mass. The contemporary modernist church needs a more Protestant style, entertainment hall. Thus, it’s more than merely the architecture that often needs to change.

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Filed under Architecture, Art, Beauty, Catholic Church, Church History, Curious, Education, Mary, Tradition, Video

From the Sacrament to the Mysteries: A Survey of Classical and Sacred Architecture

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.

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St. Patrick’s Cathedral Restoration and a Tour of America’s Parish Church

I have never been to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Someday I may get there. I hope so.

Here is a video report on the restoration of the Cathedral from a few years ago. This was a newsworthy event, so it was poper that it was covered in the secular media.

A great question was asked; essentially why was so much money spent when there are plenty of other financial needs in the world and in the parish, such as poverty and school closures, etc. Although Cardinal Dolan did not go into it much, there are many good reasons to keep the cathedral in tip top shape — it is a prominent house of God, visited by millions, providing for the spiritual needs of many, hosting popes, and bringing in revenue to the parish. It is a good thing to spend money and labor on a cathedral. Doing so is a form or worship. Simply it comes down to whether God truly exists and whether the Real Presence of Christ is there seven times a day for the faithful (how many times they celebrate Mass in St. Patrick’s).

If one does not not believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist then beautiful churches makes no sense. If, on the other hand, Christ is truly present then it makes all the sense in the world.

If you want a bit more intimate portrait of the cathedral, here’s the Cardinal giving a person and revealing tour of this great church:

I honestly do not know what I think of Cardinal Dolan. He seems like such a remarkable man, and a very good cardinal. On the other hand, I personally don’t like some of the ways he is so super affable. Kinda makes me feel like there’s a whole lot up front, but not so much underneath — and that I would be manipulated a bit in his presence rather than experience true engagement. I have to trust others more knowledgeable than me. Regardless, I would love to meet him someday. And I don’t mean to be disrespectful.

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Filed under Architecture, Art, Beauty, Catholic Church, Church History, Curious, Remembering, Tradition, Video

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades Lecture: Serving the Church through Architecture

Many good points. The Q&A at the end is perhaps most interesting.

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Filed under Architecture, Art, Beauty, Catholic Church, Church History, Evangelism, Liturgy, Theology, Tradition, Video