Message - Re: What does church architecture actually do in culture? Part 3

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Posted by  Eileen on February 28, 2003 at 21:17:29:

In Reply to:  Re: What does church architecture actually do in culture? Part 3 posted by Rog the Dodge on February 21, 2003 at 16:06:39:

On this current topic.........
one thing to look at is the changing role of church as supreme authority (particularly Christian/Catholic & Anglican) in both continental Europe, & England. As it started out, it was in addition to worship thru a specified dogna or belief.............. it was also an authoritarian structure of societal conformity and control. The Roman Catholic Church was probably (I'd have to check) the primary land - estate holder in many areas. In England, a serf on church land was tied by canonical law to the land thru the blood lines of maternity. They challenged the rule of absolute monarchs. My Jesuits clients of today are alot more friendly than the Jesuits of the Spanish Inquisition. I have a very hard time imagining 95% of them in that light.

So if you look at old churchs, impressive and viewable from a great distance, there is a very good reason why. Site location of many great eccliastical buildings and communities had vistas, and additionally were for a period the predomimant buildings of any skyline, often perched on the highest hill, and also being the tallest structure to boot. As any visitor could note entering a new area, the tallest building often signifies who is in control. If you examine the tallest building of an era, and note the sequential structures, it is a telling chronology. The temples of industry and banking in Manhatten including the WTC exemplify that shift over centuries to evolving power and authority. Spiritual to secular, institutions representing the magesty of God to a house of worship where a personal relationship with God takes place in a community context.

The end that I see, is that as personal freedoms increase in a modern world, people's individual relationships with their God(s) become more personal and based on smaller specialized communities. They are more aligned with serving their respective communities, parishes, or congregations.

I have only been involved with Catholic eccliastical projects (8) in Southern California as an artist in the last 4 years, but the common theme exists. There are not a large pool of architectural firms that service this group. You can count them on the fingers of one hand.

They first of all have looked at the salvageability of decaying infrastructure, and the needs of the group for the next 50 years. They are working in life era time frames. At an earlier time, the window of intent for life of a religious building was alot longer. Centuries or more.

The affects of Vatican II under Pope Paul XXIII in the early 60's dramatically altered liturgical tradition. It was the first major shift in how churches were used as a place of worship in It readjusted the direction that the priest uses to offer Catholic Mass. That one factor directly readjusted the interiors of every Catholic church I have ever seen (lots of them). How the principle sacraments of holy communion and baptism take place were changed. It changed much more than can be contained here, but the Catholic Church did one dramatic shift. It had in the past as evidenced by its various crusades (literal & physical) against heretics and heresies, scientists, inventors, writers, philosophers been an institution that ruled over with authority of life and death, and a shepherd offering guidance and solace. It had a pretty abysmal record in many areas. In Vatican II it shifted towards its members and the faithful of other faiths in a more consciliatory and understanding stance. It stopped taking a better than thou attitude.

The results are obvious in alterations to existing Catholic Churches in the US. These are small communities, that now offer services in native language instead of universal Latin. The architecture of worship is about community involvement, instead of the preach at you Sunday sermon of my childhood. There are private and semi-private gardens for contemplation, choirlofts are not up there, but down in the pews. The pews are not facing straight forward but have evolved into embracing chevron layout centered on an aisle. Communion is given face to face not kneeling. Baptismal fonts are often the size of community hot tubs. That sacrament has too caused a big shift. Instead of being at the rear of a church, its up next the sacrament of communion as front and center. The flooring is designed to accomodate overflow of water. The even change the verbiage of confession to reconciliation. The Catholic Church architecture has become more democratic and accountable to its community of worshippers. The stuffiness of Church religious practice and ultimately church structures shifted into a more habitable place of worship. The intent to create impressive structures has been very limited and I think will continue to decline. The new cathedral in Los Ageles was referred to in the Los Angeles Times and by many others as Mahony's

Among things documented in V2 and by Pope Paul XXIII shortly thereafter.

in Nostra Aetate (one of the most significant documents of V2):
"The Church therefore has this exhortation for her sons: prudently and lovingly, through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, and in witness of Christian faith and life, acknowledge, preserve, and promote the spiritual and moral goods found among these men, as well as the values in their society and culture."

It also stopped using religion as a promulgation for war. Pope Paul VI in an address to the United Nations in November 1965:
"No more war; war never again!"

Its a far cry from turning a blind eye and ear to events of WW2 and shortly thereafter by Pius XII and his Vatican Secretary Giovanni Montini (became Paul VI)

The best is for last though.......... This is an article / transcript of a Southern California Catholic Church that is an architectural gem (my opinion shared by many others, including non-Catholics). Read the link below. Its an insite into what the actual and perceived needs are and how they are dealt with. Consensus is really difficult to reach, which is something that I have experienced in my work. You might see a great solution to a problem that works aesthetically and functionally, but fur flies at times, especially in a democratic society in a haven of the suncrazed happy faces (like Southern California.)

In closing, I don't personally think that too much change will happen further in church architectural changes in the next decade or so. All those lawsuits and shifts to accountabilty for long overlooked behavioural indescretions by a very few. ............. I see a decrease in building funds for a while as a direct result.

Regards to all

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