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Anathematizing ugly churches

Hooray for Pope Benedict!: [1]

 

A team has been set up, to put a stop to garage style churches, boldly shaped structures that risk denaturing modern places for Catholic worship. Its task is also to promote singing that really helps the celebration of mass. The “Liturgical art and sacred music commission” will be established by the Congregation for Divine Worship over the coming weeks. This will not be just any office, but a true and proper team, whose task will be to collaborate with the commissions in charge of evaluating construction projects for churches of various dioceses. The team will also be responsible for the further study of music and singing that accompany the celebration of mass.

Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Benedict XVI, consider this work as “very urgent”. The reality is staring everyone in the eyes: in recent decades, churches have been substituted by buildings that resemble multi purpose halls. Too often, architects, even the more famous ones, do not use the Catholic liturgy as a starting point and thus end up producing avant-garde constructions that look like anything but a church. These buildings composed of cement cubes, glass boxes, crazy shapes and confused spaces, remind people of anything but the mystery and sacredness of a church. Tabernacles are semi hidden, leading faithful on a real treasure hunt and sacred images are almost inexistent. The new commission’s regulations will be written up over the next few days and will give precise instructions to dioceses. It will only be responsible for liturgical art, not for sacred art in general; and this also goes for liturgical music and singing too. The judicial powers of the Congregation for Divine Worship will have the power to act.

Wonderful news. Let’s have some auto-da-fes, please. Ugly churches have been a pet peeve of mine for a long time. Remember the poured-concrete monstrosity that looks like an ottoman mating with an armchair? [2] More here [3]. And look, it’s the Mosque of Ming the Merciless. [4]

(H/T: Andrew Sullivan [5])

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29 Comments To "Anathematizing ugly churches"

#1 Comment By Surly On November 27, 2011 @ 5:16 pm

Hmph. When he’s as worried about ugly behavior by the clergy as he is by externalities like buildings and music, I’ll say hooray for him.

#2 Comment By Elli On November 27, 2011 @ 5:26 pm

The parish church I abandoned was built McMansion style. That’s not why I left, but it didn’t hold me to stay.

The MIT chapel by Eero Saarinen, from the outside a windowless brick cylinder surrounded by a shallow stagnant moat, ought to be an architectural atrocity, an abandoned factory chimney to hold religious service in. Inside it is a serene, hushed fortress. There is no suspended dove and yet the skylight and the screen behind the altar are the best representation of the Holy Spirit I have seen, with a pagan hint of Zeus as a rain of gold. The water in the moat reflects light rippling up the walls from below, animating them, as if the space were a clear pool in a forest glade.

[6]

#3 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On November 27, 2011 @ 5:47 pm

The unlamented Roger Mahony left the faithful with a hideous brickpile with $18 parking. The Orange County diocese just bought the Crystal Cathedral from the church founded by the drive-in church. It’s all glass, so I imagine the liturgical art will be scanty.

Somehow I prefer the derivative, ostentatious 19th-century churches that imitate European models, even if not constructed in the same way.

OTOH, look at St Andrew’s in Riverside, to be consecrated on 12/3.

#4 Comment By The Sicilian Woman On November 27, 2011 @ 6:10 pm

Both of the cathedrals in Oakland and Los Angeles were featured in the link to the post from your Beliefnet blog, but they’re so bad, the the one in Oakland being particularly atrocious, that I thought I’d supply another link I found about them recently, one with more photos.

[7]

The only saving grace (pun not intended) about the one in L.A., which I’ve been to a couple times, is the tapestry on either side of the church, depicting many saints. Other than that, it’s fairly cold and sterile.

#5 Comment By Scott Nunn On November 27, 2011 @ 6:12 pm

What’s your take on Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia?
[8]

#6 Comment By Richard On November 27, 2011 @ 6:16 pm

So Rod, should the church on your linked site, L’Eglise Ste-Bernadette du Banlay, be called “St. Augustine of Hippo”, or just “Hippo”?

#7 Comment By VikingLS On November 27, 2011 @ 8:27 pm

The Ming the Merciless Mosque reminds me of a mosque I lived near in Constantinople. It bore a striking resemblance to Darth Vader’s helmet.

#8 Comment By Peterk On November 27, 2011 @ 8:39 pm

Michael Rose wrote the following book “Ugly As Sin: Why They Changed Our Churches from Sacred Places to Meeting Spaces and How We Can Change Them Back Again”
[9]

#9 Comment By TWylite On November 27, 2011 @ 9:11 pm

All designed by “name brand” church architect I.M Pray, no doubt.

#10 Comment By Park Hyun On November 27, 2011 @ 9:38 pm

Can we spread this to modern architecture generally, please? Clearly, it’s not just churches the modernists have ruined.

#11 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On November 27, 2011 @ 10:25 pm

Here’s a link to St Andrew in Riverside:

[10]

Yes, it’s derivative, based on a Greek model. But compared to the Mahony chapel, it’s brilliant.

#12 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On November 27, 2011 @ 10:31 pm

Here’s a view of the inside of the drive-in MTD church in Garden Grove, which the Romans are buying. I can’t blame the Archbishop too much–it cost him $57 mil, and a new cathedral (which might be far worse and less distinctive) would cost $200 mil. Still,no room for icons, statuary, or side-chapels.

[11]

#13 Comment By Scott On November 28, 2011 @ 7:53 am

So what do you think about the new cathedral in Barcelona?

[12]

#14 Comment By Rod Dreher On November 28, 2011 @ 8:10 am

Been there, love it. Did you know Gaudi was an extremely devout Catholic? Gaudi’s style is so singular that it’s hard to hold him up as an example of anything. He’s as far away from architectural traditionalism as he is from architectural modernism.

I do think that the Sagrada Familia doorway done after Gaudi’s death is a terrible blemish on the cathedral, though.

#15 Comment By Chris Floyd On November 28, 2011 @ 9:12 am

I wonder if this will affect the Orange County Diocese’s recent purchase of the famous “Crystal Cathedral,” which is supposed to become THEIR cathedral in a few years?

[13]

#16 Comment By MH – secular misanthropist On November 28, 2011 @ 9:38 am

As someone who is non-religious, my interactions with churches are from the outside, so how they look is particularly important to me. I’m a big fan of the classic New England white church with a clock tower that is topped with a steeple. Do a Google image search for “classic new england church” to see some good examples. A town center without one of these buildings somehow seems incomplete to me. However, my style preference is likely culturally contingent and if I grew up elsewhere I would probably like something else.

Non-descript boxes don’t bother me, but they aren’t pleasing either. Ugly modern churches are particularly annoying, but fortunately there are few around here.

#17 Comment By Sam M On November 28, 2011 @ 10:26 am

When we moved to pittsburgh in the mid 2000s, this Church was right down the street from us.

[14]

It struck me as odd that it looked so much like Ponce De Leone’s hat. Equally odd, to me at least, was that so many of Pittsburgh’s churches were in the style of mid-1960s. I was very much expecting old-school immigrant churches. They had those, sure. But ones like the one listed above seemed really commmon.

#18 Comment By Red Emma On November 28, 2011 @ 11:04 am

Ummm, I’m not Christian, but it seems odd to me to object to worshipping in a “garage-style church” Someone who was allegedly born in a stable.

#19 Comment By bones On November 28, 2011 @ 12:36 pm

The church I attended for the first 18 years of my life was styled after some kind of tent. As in, imagine a brown circus tent made of brick and concrete that held about 800 people. From a very early age I recall not understanding why the old churches were so beautiful and the new ones so dreadful.

#20 Comment By David J. White On November 28, 2011 @ 12:46 pm

One Catholic church that I particularly dislike is the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, in Washington, DC, I dislike it not because it’s stupefyingly ugly, but because somehow it’s less than the sum of its parts. Many of the individual chapels inside are beautiful, but somehow they don’t add up to a coherent whole. The effect is esthetically jarring somehow. It really seems like it was designed by a committee — a committee of individuals who each had a great idea, but who never talked to one another and tried to harmonize them.

[15]

The Shrine is right next to Catholic U. A friend of mine went to law school at Catholic U, and he told me a joke that apparently was current among CU students: A couple of seminarians are walking in front of the National Shrine, when the Blessed Mother appears to them. “My children,” she says, “I want you to build me a beautiful church,” (pointing at the National Shrine), “on this spot.”

#21 Comment By BobN On November 28, 2011 @ 5:11 pm

“The Orange County diocese just bought the Crystal Cathedral”

So a conservative church in a conservative diocese chooses to celebrate its rituals in a cutting-edge building designed by an openly gay architectural genius.

Plus ça change….

I suppose, on the other hand, that it’s some sort of progress that the previous owners found themselves forced to sell mainly due to a theological battle between the older, founding generation and the newer, more “fundamentalist” second generation.

#22 Comment By BobN On November 28, 2011 @ 5:24 pm

“The reality is staring everyone in the eyes: in recent decades, churches have been substituted by buildings that resemble multi purpose halls. ”

Llovera should read up on the history of the basilica.

#23 Comment By David J. White On November 28, 2011 @ 9:29 pm

Llovera should read up on the history of the basilica.

There is a long history of religious structures having their origins in more mundane or secular structures. The Christian church was modeled on the Roman basilica — a secular building designed to accommodate crowds of people for legal proceedings, etc. The classical temple couldn’t really serve as a model for the Christian church, because Greek and Roman temples were not intended to accommodate crowds of worshippers inside. (Yes, many classical temples were turned into churches, but they had to be completely remodeled/transformed in the process.)

Before that, the classical Greek temple itself had its origin in the Mycenaean megaron, a room apparently used for various official purposes.

I have sometimes snarkily remarked to students that if this trend continues — repurposing secular architectural styles for religious purposes — perhaps the religious building of the future will be modeled after the shopping mall: each religion will have its own individual space within the overall structure.

#24 Comment By Thomas O. Meehan On November 28, 2011 @ 9:42 pm

Sometime after the Second Vatican Council, I noticed a change in the side alter with it’s statue of St. Joseph. There appeared two golden shapes best described as amoebas plastered into the wall. Since this spot at the communion rail was where I prayed penance every Saturday I had many chances to decipher just what these devotional shapes might be. I noticed that one of the amoebas had a hard edge which differed from it’s mate.

Finally one Saturday it struck me! This was a modern art expression of chalice and bread loaf, the body and blood of Our Lord. Sums up the post council church pretty well in my opinion.

#25 Comment By Stef On November 29, 2011 @ 7:59 am

The big mistake was not so much designing churches according to Bauhaus or Brutalist styles. Vatican II made two central mistakes before that, of which brutalist architecture was a *symptom.*

The first was this idea that you had to “declutter” churches. I don’t remember the exact Vatican II phrasing, but it had something to do with getting rid of excess, of side chapels, of a lot of art, etc.

It was the equivalent of going into someone’s home and sweeping away four generations of family knick-knacks into a storage bin, and telling the family “You can remember your ancestors better in spirit, without all this junk.”

But this stuff in old churches wasn’t “junk.” Mrs. McCreedy down the road might have stitched the altar cloth. Mr. Bock might have carved the altar, or one of them. Someone else might have stitched the needlepoint on the confessional kneelers. What happened is that a whole local people’s family history was *erased.*

Not only that, clutter sometimes helps people get into a “liminal state,” that mental spot between waking and sleeping, where the conscious mind sits this one out, where the adaptive unconscious can work, and the psychological unconscious as well.

Similarly, the auditory version of Vatican II reform closed side chapels and forbade side chapel masses to go on at the same time as the main Mass. So the white noise hum of many Masses, all said in Latin (no distraction from English words), all out of sync with each other, all chanted or spoken in chant-like tones, overlaid with the choir of the main Mass – all this probably worked together to form a wall of low, barely perceptible sound which also would add to liminality.

It’s a typical mid-20th century mistake, and a mid-century obsession with theology (Ha, I blame German theologians, who cared more than anybody. Just half-kidding.)

What they forgot is the crucial point – bad theology does not make bad religion. Bad *ritual* makes bad religion. Then, when bad ritual rules the day, everybody gets obsessed with theology because there’s nothing else left.

#26 Comment By David J. White On November 29, 2011 @ 8:27 am

But this stuff in old churches wasn’t “junk.” … What happened is that a whole local people’s family history was *erased.*

The church where my grandparents grew up got rid of their communion rail some years ago. Apparently my great-uncle, who, like my grandparents, had gone to the parish school, saw part of the communion rail sitting in the parking lot, and started crying — because he remembered when he, along with other students in the parish school, had donated their pennies to help pay for the communion rail.

What the wreckovators and desecrators never seem to understand is that these things *don’t belong to them*. If anything, they are just the temporary curators.

It was the equivalent of going into someone’s home and sweeping away four generations of family knick-knacks into a storage bin, and telling the family “You can remember your ancestors better in spirit, without all this junk.”

Apparently this is one reason why Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Usonian” houses never worked out as cheap housing for the masses. Wright insisted on designing “complete environments”, down to the color of the carpet and all the furniture and furnishing. Unfortunately, ordinary people have an annoying tendency to want to personalize their living space, and to use their grandfather’s chair, and their mother’s lamp, and family photos, and so on. From what I’ve read, this rather human tendency of actual people to want to put personal touches in their own living space drove Wright up the wall.

#27 Comment By Stef On November 29, 2011 @ 9:49 am

Hi, David White: Excellent tie-in with FLW and Usonian houses. I maintain that modernization of church architecture didn’t cause the decadence; it was a symptom of a long period of decadence. And one characteristic of decadence is the obsession with “fashion,” and whether people see you as “fashionable” or not. The Catholic Church cared very much in the early to mid 20th century about being seen as “fashionable” (read: up to date, modern, etc.)

#28 Comment By BobN On December 1, 2011 @ 4:18 pm

“perhaps the religious building of the future will be modeled after the shopping mall”

Or at least the food court thereof.

#29 Comment By Slavic Christian Society On April 16, 2019 @ 9:05 pm

UNIVERSAL CHURCH ICONOGRAPHY
Illustrated Creed
“I believe in one God, the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, … And was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary and was made man; was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried; and the third day rose again … and the life of the world to come. Amen.”1

1. IMAGE/ICON OF GOD AND THE CREATION OF THE WORLD → AT CHURCH ENTRANCE2
2. SCENES FROM THE COMMON SACRED HISTORY → ALONG ONE WALL/ICONOSTAS, E.G.:
FALL OF ADAM AND EVE
NOAH AND THE FLOOD
SACRIFICE OF ABRAHAM
MOSES AND THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
NATIVITY OF CHRIST
FLIGHT INTO EGYPT
JESUS IN THE CARPENTER SHOP
CRUCIFIXION
RESURRECTION
DESCENT OF HOLY SPIRIT ON THE APOSTLES / APOSTOLIC COUNCIL OF JERUSALEM
CONSTANTINE’S EDICT OF 313 / COUNCIL OF CARTHAGE IN 397 AND THE BIBLE CANON
CHURCH OF SAINT PETER’S IN ROME / OUR LADY OF KAZAN IN SAINT PETERSBURG
3. SCENES FROM THE LIFE OF A FAITHFUL INDIVIDUAL → ALONG OTHER WALL/ICONOSTAS, E.G.:
GOOD WORKS – GOOD SAMARITAN / ZACCHAEUS
PRAYER – REPENTANCE PRAYER OF THE PUBLICAN / THE GOOD THIEF
SEVEN SACRAMENTS – SAINT LEOPOLD MANDICH / SAINT PIO IN THE CONFESSIONAL
4. ALTAR RAIL / ANCIENT STYLE LOW ICONOSTAS → IN FRONT OF APSE AND ALTAR
5. LECTERN PORTABLE → IN FRONT OF ALTAR
6. IMAGE/ICON OR STATUE OF MARY WITH THE CHILD → LEFT OF ALTAR
7. THE FIFTEEN SCENES OF THE ROSARY → LEFT WALL OR ICONOSTAS
8. IMAGE/ICON OR STATUE OF CHRIST THE TEACHER → RIGHT OF ALTAR
9. THE WAY OF THE CROSS, INCLUDING DESCENT INTO HADES → RIGHT WALL OR ICONOSTAS3
10. TABLE OF PREPARATION → LEFT OF ALTAR
11. ALTAR → CENTRE OF APSE
12. TABERNACLE → CENTRE OF ALTAR4
13. CRUCIFIX → ON ALTAR
14. IMAGE/ICON OF LAST SUPPER, THE FIRST EUCHARIST/MASS IN JERUSALEM → IN FRONT OF ALTAR5
15. IMAGE/ICON OF ETERNAL LIFE DEPICTING THE SAINTS AND GOD → IN CHURCH APSE6
REFERENCES. Abbreviation: e.g. – for example. 1 Illustrated Creed is a depiction of the entire Creed, from the beginning to the end, thus proclaiming Christian Faith in pictures, including pictures in stained glass windows – a synergy of faith and art, good and beautiful, and a perfect and unsurpassable artistic masterpiece of Christian civilization. The ideal church building, the house of God’s people, is a sacred functional/practical symbol of timeless form and proportion, containing images of sacred persons and events from the beginning of creation to the glorification in heaven. The shape of a church dome may be symbolic of the rainbow from Genesis 9:16 and the cross on its top is a sign of the New Covenant. Simplicity of design in parish churches is helpful for their economical maintenance; symmetrical and well-proportioned design gives beauty to a church building in which Eucharist/Liturgy/Mass and other Sacraments are celebrated for the glory of God and for human sanctification, e.g., churches in Jerusalem, Constantinople, Kiev, Saint Petersburg, Rome, Montréal, Washington, San Francisco and Mexico. 2 This is an original 2013 Slavic synthesis based on Genesis 1:1-31, Exodus 3:14, Colossians 1:16, and Church Tradition, and a correction of theologically-deficient, though artistically excellent, Renaissance painting in the famous Sistine Chapel in Rome, which also lacks scenes from the Rosary and the Way of the Cross, popularized after the 16th century; see Santa Sofia basilica in Rome. 3 The 15th station of the Way of the Cross, Christ’s descent into hell on Good Friday, is an original Slavic-Italian sequel (final) published in 2006. 4 See: Saint Francis of Assisi church in Mississauga, Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield, and others, [16] library/curia/cdwinoec.htm – the centrality of the tabernacle. 5 See: Saint Francis of Assisi church in Toronto and a multitude of others. 6 This picture, like the 15th station of the Way of the Cross, beautifully and perfectly rounds out the illustrated Creed into a fitting and irreplaceable whole; see: apse of San Vitale in Ravenna, painting of Domenico Ghirlandaio, and many others. See also: [17]; [18]; Pope John Paul II’s letter commemorating the 12th centenary of Nicea II, Rome, 1987; Paul Evdokimov, L’Art de l’icône: théologie de ta beauté, Paris, 1972; Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium, Rome, 1963; Pope John Paul II (promulgator), Catéchisme de l’Eglise catholique, Rome, 1992; Josef A. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman rite, New York, 1951. Prepared by Slavic Christian Society / Société Chrétienne Slave / Slăviansko Xristianskoe Sŏbranie, Mississauga [19] 1999; originally published in Polish as Uniwersalna Ikonografia Kościoła: Ilustrowane Credo, Mississauga [20] 1999. English edition: (1) Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Polish Roman Catholic Church, Mississauga, 1999; (2) revised according to the 2013 Croatian edition Univerzalno Crkveno Slikarstvo: Ilustrirano Vjerovanje – blessed by Bishop Bogović, published by Knights of Columbus, Council 12922, 1883 King St. E., Hamilton, ON L8K 1V9 [21] 12.2.2016.