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.
Many good points. The Q&A at the end is perhaps most interesting.
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
Filed under Architecture, Art, Beauty, Catholic Church, Church History, Evangelism, Gospel, Language, Liturgy, Sacraments, Theology, Tradition, Video
Dr. Denis McNamara, faculty member at The Liturgical Institute in Mundelein, Illinois, speaks on church architecture in ten short videos. The first one is here:
The other nine videos can be found at The Liturgical Institute under videos.
Here is another lecture from Duncan Stroik. Most people are not going to find a lecture on sacred architecture to be all that interesting, but I find this fascinating. In fact, I think it is quite important.
I’m not going to say much here about church architecture, but it’s clear that many, perhaps most, of our churches today do not serve us in the way God designed us to be served. We do not generally build sacred spaces anymore — except maybe in sports stadiums and museums. Too many Catholic churches today, those built over that last 50-75 years or less, have designs that seem to be based on assumptions (if anyone assumes at all) that the space will be made sacred by the Real Presence and a few common Catholics items, and thus we don’t need to have architecture that reaches towards Heaven. In one sense it’s true that we don’t need church buildings to point us to Heaven, or at least it’s logical, but in practice there is often a corresponding denial of the more mysterious aspects and needs of our humanity in our church designs.
I wonder what cultural forces have shaped our world such that many Catholics see no problems with, and even love, lousy church architecture. Perhaps we have lost the understanding of what a sacred space truly is, and that, I suppose, only comes about because we have lost the understanding of what a human being is — a sad thing indeed, especially for Catholics.