Sacred Architecture

Let the Church Be a House of Wonder

Introibo ad altare Dei. Ad Deum qui laetificat iuventutem meam. I shall go in to the altar of God. To God, the joy of my youth. A few days ago I entered for the first time what some people in the area call the Sistine Chapel of America. There's reason for that. Saint Anne's Church, [...]

Designing a Church for the Poor

[Saint] Peter teaches us to look to the poor through the eyes of faith and to give them that which is most precious: the power of the name of Jesus. This is what he did with the paralytic; he gave him what he had, which was Jesus.  ∼ Pope Francis, Angelus June 29, 2014, Solemnity [...]

How Lovely (Again) is Thy Dwelling Place

In a recent Crisis essay, I indicated that the recovery of tradition, reverence and symbolism in sacred architecture is not limited only to newly built churches, but that it has also been on the increase in existing church renovations in recent years. Some of the most jarring evidence of internal unsettledness in the Church over [...]

A New Direction in Church Design

One day fifteen years ago, I happened to be channel surfing past the Eternal Word Television Network when I was greeted by a momentary flash of heavenly beauty across the screen. Quickly flipping back, I realized that it was a Mass being celebrated in an unusually majestic church with an extensively gilded and marbled interior. [...]

A Church Renovation Worth Celebrating

Several years ago, the best thing that could have happened to my boyhood church in Pennsylvania did in fact happen. One evening the pastor entered the church, turned on the light switch, heard the pop of a short circuit, and peered into an impenetrable cloud of smoke. He ran out of the church and called [...]

Beauty is for the Poor, Too

“How many poor people there still are in the world! And what great suffering they have to endure! After the example of Francis of Assisi, the Church in every corner of the globe has always tried to care for and look after those who suffer from want, and I think that in many of your [...]

Saving Catholic Culture from Destruction

What kind of mindset built all the immigrant Catholic parishes of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the Americas? Was it a way of thinking predicated on practical limitations; on being “realistic” in the mundane sense of the word? This can hardly be so. Something deeply potent—and even slightly irrational to the modern mind—had to [...]

Invest in Catholic Youth: Build Beautiful School Chapels

  Intellege ut credas; crede ut intellegas  (In order to believe you must understand. In order to understand you must believe.)  —St. Augustine A priest once told me that the best place to teach students the faith is in a church. For it is in a church that they can see a physical expression of [...]

The Real Scandal in Germany

One might think we were living back in the days of the Renaissance. Tremendously high expenses for “luxurious” buildings by the Bishop of Limburg have brought him into the headlines as the “Protz-Bischof” (“the showy Bishop”). Scandal has rocked the diocese and Rome decided therefore in October 2013 that bishop Tebartz-van Elst was to take [...]

Benedict XVI and the Way of Beauty

 Something unusual is revealed here as well: the house of God is the true house of humans.  It becomes the house of humans even more the less it tries to be this and the more it is simply put up for him.  — Pope Benedict XVI In modern memory, has there been a Pope who [...]

Modern Ambiguity Amid Baroque Splendor

We are all familiar with the truism that a picture is worth a thousand words, and there are likely few places in the world where its use is more appropriate than the Eternal City. Rome is a city of messages. To walk in centro—that is, through the historic city center—is to move figuratively through three [...]

Against the Senseless Destruction of Churches

Last year, L’Eglise de Notre Dame de l’Assumption, in the old fishing port of Arichat, Nova Scotia, celebrated its 175th anniversary.  Its twin spires overlook the bay where John Paul Jones, to Americans a hero but to loyal Canadians a pirate and a traitor, once trained his guns, and sure enough, near the corner of [...]

The Casino and the Cathedral: On Recovering Our Abandoned Culture

Today’s pagan temples and chapels—capitalistic institutions bent on money making no matter what—have appropriated Catholic styles, symbols, art, liturgy, and rubrics just as Catholics have lost confidence in them. They are winning and we are not. It’s time for Catholicism to become newly aware of the richest of our own symbols lest we lose out [...]

After Architectural Modernism

It was the summer of 1947. The Second World War was still a painful recent memory, and much of Europe was still a bombed-out shambles.  The Korean War was still three years in the future, and the Second Vatican Council wouldn’t convene its opening sessions for another fifteen years.  During this summer, a fifty year-old [...]

How John Paul II Restored Liturgical Sanity

We tend to think of the papacy of Benedict XVI as the papacy that put the Catholic liturgy back together again, turning the “hermeneutic of rupture” into the “hermeneutic of continuity.” Rarely receiving the credit for preparing the way is John Paul II, who labored mightily and brilliantly during his pontificate—in a long and consistent [...]

Why Seminarians Should Study Sacred Art and Architecture

One of the recommendations of Vatican II was that priests be formed in the arts: “During their philosophical and theological studies, clerics are to be taught about the history and development of sacred art, and about the sound principles governing the production of its works. In consequence they will be able to appreciate and preserve [...]

Fashion and Design Ideology in Sacred Architecture: A Review of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels

Where to begin? Well, there are hardly any right angles in this building. Broken forms, discontinuities, and protrusions in its geometry both inside and outside characterize the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Such imbalance and departure from mathematical harmony is usually explained away by labeling it a “postmodern-deconstructivist” building, as if style were [...]

A Tale of Two Cathedrals: Why “Traditional versus Modernist” Tells Only Part of the Story

Here we have two recent Cathedrals of similarly grand scale and with contrasting architectures. The juxtaposition of the two styles makes an interesting case study for the “traditional versus modernist” debate over which architectural style is most appropriate for worship. Debates of this kind usually begin over obvious characteristics of style. But following a close [...]

The Sculptor of the Beau Dieu

He lived in an age when artists were beginning to make names for themselves. The master-mason Hugues Libergier, whose funerary slab may be seen today in the cathedral of Reims, was his contemporary. Robert de Luzarches and Thomas de Cormont, the masters of the work at Amiens, were his collaborators. The century before, one who [...]

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