Friday, September 12, 2008


If you are interested in knowing how we got from this

to this

or this

and how we might get back to this

read this.

Thanks to the NLM blog.


Anonymous said...

The presentation of the photos and text here seems to strongly presuppose that the ornate classical or gothic schemes are the only correct ones for a catholic church. There are a huge variety of Catholics around the world. Whilst I would not suggest a square bungalow-type church in concrete with opening sides would be the architecture of choice in York, or Durham, such a building was the venue for a Mass which stays in my mind still as one of the most reverently and enthusiastically attended I have ever experiences. It was in Malaysia, and the congregation was surrounding the church in the open air, listening, singing and participating. A tremendous experience. I have had such moving experiences in other churches, both old and new, including Westminster Cathedral and the concrete cathedral in Royan. We have to constantly renew and experiment. In 500 years the ones that work will still be there, the ones that don't, won't. We don't see the mistakes of the older periods, only the better ones that survived.

Fr Michael Brown said...

Seeker, I wonder if you have read the article? I agree that we don`t want to stifle artistic development but if you read what Fr Nichols has to say you will see how he argues that the modern exmplaes pictured here belong to the school of thought which makes the gathered assembly the main focus of the whole experience. Churches stripped of symbolism which seeks to lift the heart to God don`t work well as churches.
A couple of quotations from the article might be useful.

`[The Modernists’] buildings have been incapable of addressing the deeper, mystical knowledge of the faith, much less the human soul’s yearning for the mystery of transcendent beauty. Rather they have fallen into a reductionist mentality, stripping the churches of those elements, symbols, and images that speak to the human heart. Their buildings speak only of the immanent—even as their liturgies studiously avoid the transcendent to dwell on the ‘gathered assembly’—and thus have departed from the theological and anthropological underpinnings of the traditional understandin of Catholic church architecture.`

`.....Mannion comments: ‘there exists considerable difficulty in reconciling the principles of aesthetic modernism and those of the sacramental tradition of Catholicism’. That is the artifice of under-statement. How can they possibly be reconciled if architectural Modernism seeks, as it does, to expunge symbolism and memory whereas the sacramental sensibility of Catholicism is founded on precisely these things?`

This article identifies the theological flaws in such buildings. Rootless art expresses rootless theology.

BTW I forgot to mention that the last picture is the new basilica of our Lady of Guadalupe in the diocese of La Crosse, commisioned by archbishop Burke.

Anonymous said...

There were some very specific comments on the Modernism of the 1920's and the article goes on to mention that that movement was fairly quickly seen to be a dead end and pretty much abandoned. The overall gist though is to suggest that modern, (as opposed to Modernist) is not good.

I take your point on the symbolic; perhaps you'd agree that when used appropriately in modern churches it can be very successful. The stained glass of the Lantern at Christ the King, Liverpool for instance is powerfully symbolic(crown of thorns), good art, and creates a spiritual space which focuses the attention on prayer. There are many good examples of modern churches. (Also some very 'average' examples of old churches pre-'62 where the decoration may be symbolic, but is neither powerful, or good art).

Perhaps we'd both agree that quality is key here, as well as continuity but without shackling us behind rood screens as some seem to want!

PeterHWright said...

This article by Fr. Aidan Nichols is a masterful treatment of the subject, and many thanks to Fr. Brown for posting it. I have spent the weekend reading and re-reading it. I could wish it to be longer, so as to include a fuller history of the development of the church building as the domus Dei, but this has been discussed elsewhere by other authors (including Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in "The Spirit of The Liturgy" (2000).

Au fond, it all comes down to one thing : the recovery of the sense of the sacred in the liturgy is the prerequisite to the recovery of the sacred in Christian architecture.

Pastor in Monte said...

Erm, isn't the first pic the chapel of the Anglican Pusey House in Oxford?
Great blog, btw, Fr Michael!

Fr Michael Brown said...

Thanks Fr Sean. Is it Pusey house? I thought it was London Colney.