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by Steven J Schloeder, PhD, AIA
All booklets are published thanks to the generous support of the members of the Catholic Truth Society
CATHOLIC TRUTH SOCIETY publishers to the holy see
Contents Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 What is Sacred Space? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Why Build a Church? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 Sign, Symbol and Sacrament . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 Symbolism in the Old Testament . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 Symbolism in the New Testament . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 Church Architecture as a Sacramental Sign . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21 The Image of the Body of Christ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23 The Images of the Tent and Temple . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28 The Meaning of the Tent and Temple . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31 The Images of the City . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34 Tent, Temple, and City in Early Christian Imagery . . . . . . . . 38 Body, Temple, City: What These Have in Common . . . . . . . . 44 The Church’s Vision for Church Architecture . . . . . . . . . . . . 52 All rights reserved. First published 2013 by The Incorporated Catholic Truth Society, 40-46 Harleyford Road London SE11 5AY Tel: 020 7640 0042 Fax: 020 7640 0046. This edition © 2013 The Incorporated Catholic Truth Society. ISBN 978 1 86082 865 2 Inside images: Page 4: St Joseph Catholic Church, Rio Vista, California, USA © Steven J Schloeder; p. 6: St Timothy Catholic Church, Mesa, Arizona, USA © Steven J Schloeder; p. 10: Canopy at Santa Maria Maggiore © Steven J Schloeder; p. 15: St Salvator’s Chapel, St Andrews, Scotland © Lawrence Lew OP.; p. 25: © Steven J Schloeder;; p. 26: St Maria Goretti, Scottsdale, Arizona, USA © Steven J Schloeder; p. 32: Antiquitatum Iudaicarum, Benedictus Arias Montanus (1593) © Thomas Suarez Rare Maps, cosmography.com; p. 43: Hierosolima, Hartmann Schedel (1493) © The National Library of Israel and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Dept. of Geography, Historic Cities Research Project; p. 45: left: after Cesariano (1521), right: Palatine Chapel, Aachen, Germany © Steven J Schloeder; p. 47: Our Savior Catholic Center, Los Angeles CA, USA, Tympanum by Jason Arkles, © Steven J Schloeder; p. 50: St Therese Catholic Church, Collinsville, Oklahoma, USA © Steven J Schloeder; p. 54 St Paul Catholic Church, Pensacola, Florida, USA © Steven J Schloeder.
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Introduction A church is supposed to be a place of wonder where one finds both mystery and answers, where one feels both properly humble and immensely dignified, where one might simultaneously move through space and time and remain in contemplation and prayer. It is certainly “here and now”: bound to the earth and subject to all the constraints of other buildings. Yet it also helps us understand something of the transcendental: the timeless, the eternal, the spiritual and the numinous. Before the Second World War, it was relatively simple for an architect to design something that “looked like a church”, and in libraries one can still find pattern books from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that allowed even a mediocre architect to design a respectable church building. While some say these buildings often lacked “vitality” and became architecturally clichéd, they did generally have the virtues of supporting liturgy and the devotional lives of Catholics. Even rather mundane, runof-the-mill church buildings looked like churches, and the lay faithful understood them as such.
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Typical early 20th century American church.
The Modernist movement But throughout the second half of the twentieth century the Modernist movement in architecture generally rejected the concept of sacred architecture as well as any appeal to the authority of architectural precedent. In their place, the Modernist movementâ€™s architectural values were functional analysis, programmatic efficiency, cost abatement, and contemporary materials, technology and building systems. Modern architecture was not intended to communicate meaning, let alone any sense of the â€œsacredâ€?, but rather to serve the utilitarian needs of modern society.
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Adopting architectural modernism for Catholic church projects represented a shift in values and intentions, which necessarily had an impact on the capacity of a church building to be seen as a sacred building, a sacramental sign; rejecting the formal language of sacred architecture and traditional forms rendered the church building mute, incapable of speaking to the heart and mind. The adoption of architectural modernism created an intractable tension, since Catholicism is grounded in the idea that the faith is a “continuity of tradition” of teachings, practices and understandings that have been “handed on from time immemorial”. The role of the Church is to receive, safeguard and faithfully transmit this “deposit of faith” throughout the ages. This mission is understood as a mandate of her founder, Jesus, which has been entrusted to the apostles and their successors up to this present day. The authority and the guarantee of this mandate to safeguard the depositum fidei is the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, for it is the Holy Spirit given by Christ who leads us into the fullness of truth (Jn 16:13). As Blessed John Paul II noted, the Holy Spirit is ever present in the Church to help us understand the things of God in the midst of our ever changing world: He will ensure continuity and identity of understanding in the midst of changing conditions and circumstances. The Holy Spirit, then, will ensure that in the Church
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there will always continue the same truth which the Apostles heard from their Master.1 In keeping with the prompting of the Holy Spirit through the Second Vatican Council’s calling for church buildings, liturgical furnishing, and sacred art to be “signs and symbols of heavenly things”, we have begun to focus again on the “transcendental” meaning of church architecture. This guide will consider the church building primarily as a reflection of sacramental sign. We will examine the symbolic language that has formed our cultural consciousness of what a “church” is, how “sacred space” works experientially, and how the building is intended to serve the liturgy and to express the Church’s theology in stone and brick.
Many modernist churches speak to utilitarian values rather than as signs to the world of the heavenly realities.
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What is Sacred Space? “Come no nearer” he said, “Take off your shoes, for the place on which you stand is holy ground.” Exodus 3:5 In the records of human history, all civilisations have ascribed “holiness” to places, things, time and persons. Holy mountains, sacred groves, healing springs, caves and grottoes, and other places where God has revealed aspects of himself (theophanies) have been held as sacred. The very earliest example we have of monumental, communal architecture, which is the twelve thousand-year-old temple complex at Göbekli Tepe in modern day Turkey, indicates that even primitive man considered some places sacred, especially those associated with birth, life, sustenance and death. The temples at Göbekli Tepe are remarkable for their advanced art and complex iconography, and all the more remarkable in that these were built when humanity was still in the Neolithic “hunter-gatherer” stage, some seven and a half thousand years before the Great Pyramid of Giza or Stonehenge. In comparison, the much later and better known Stonehenge is crude and primitive, much as a child’s toy fort would be beside Salisbury Cathedral; and yet Göbekli Tepe was comparatively more ancient to the
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builders of Stonehenge than Stonehenge is to us today. The sense of “sacred place” seems to be deeply ingrained in our DNA. Sacredness can be understood in opposition to the “profane”. From fanum, a Latin word for “temple”, the pro-fanum is that which is “outside the temple”, and refers to the things of daily life. These are not necessarily bad, but they are commonplace and not held in high regard like sacred things. To “profane” something is to take a sacred thing which has been “set aside” for special use out of its protective enclosure, and thereby to misuse or abuse and cheapen it. Only a sacred thing or place or person can be “profaned”. The idea of sacredness as something set aside is found in both time and place, as is seen in the common root word *tem- for both time (tempus) and the sacred precinct (temenos, templum). The root word means “cut” or “cut out”, referring to a space taken out of ordinary use and cut off or separated from the rest of the land. Similarly we “cut” time into measurable chunks: seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks and so forth. We also cut time into seasons and holy-days (hence the term “holidays”), which are likewise made sacred, sanctified and set aside for worship. In this way the Church orders sacred space and sacred time, but also orders the other sacraments.
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The sacraments In the Catholic tradition, the sacraments are considered sacred because in them God directly touches our human condition with his love, his healing and forgiveness, his grace, and his sustenance. He ordained that we take the sacred bread and wine that becomes for us the Body and Blood of Christ. He has ordained that man and woman set aside their own bodies for each other as the sign and means of the grace of marriage and for the propagation of future generations of citizens of heaven. Men and women are also called at times to the religious life or the priesthood where they set aside their lives for service, prayer and contemplation in particular imitation of Christ. The church building where these sacraments are mainly celebrated is a sacred place. In order to express this, the church building is set apart from the city, at least psychologically, perhaps by an enclosure wall or a series of courtyards, or perhaps by being set on a hill or a place of prominence. Likewise, the altar is set apart from the rest of the church in a special place, the sanctuary. The sense of sacredness of the altar is expressed by architectural devices, such as a baldacchino or canopy over the altar, or perhaps by being placed under a dome or in the central apse, by being elevated above the nave floor, or by being surrounded by a protective communion rail or an iconostasis.
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The baldacchino at Santa Maria Maggiore sets the altar apart with a special architectural form that recalls the Tent of Dwelling.
This sense of sacredness, and the sort of architectural mechanisms that define it, is quite intentional and appropriate so we may understand that when we enter a church building, we are entering the House of God and of Godâ€™s Holy People.
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Why Build a Church? A church is a building that has been created within a cultural and religious tradition, it constitutes a collective memory of spiritual insights, of thousands of mystical moments. A church reminds us of what we have known. Margaret Visser, The Geometry of Love A church building is not an attempt to limit God, as if it were an attempt to put “God in a box”. God cannot be constrained in any manner: we are reminded by St Thomas Aquinas that God cannot even be properly defined, but understood only through the language of analogy. Yet our Catholic tradition reminds us that as humans in space and in time, it is precisely through signs and symbols and sacraments that we encounter God. We therefore are called to set aside certain times and spaces as special. This human reality is given to us in Scripture: “For six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath for the LORD your God.” (Ex 20:9-10); and space and place are deemed holy, as we saw with Moses and the burning bush (Ex 3:5). But this is more than a divine mandate, it is something perfectly natural to our human life and we set aside things as special throughout our daily life: the family dining table and the marriage bed,
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family evenings, holidays, and birthday and anniversary celebrations, fine china for special occasions, and the like. God tells us to do so because we have already been made to do so. Because we are human, we naturally seek to order our environment. We build churches to help us â€œnavigateâ€? our way to God. The church building, understood as a sacred landscape, is filled with images and objects which remind us of our true destiny as Christians. God is outside of space and time, but we are bound in our material existence. Jesus, too, is fully God and fully man and therefore he shares in our experiences of the body, of time and space. We come to him through the material order that he came to redeem and perfect by the Incarnation. Building churches is one of the ways that we transmit this incarnational faith in concrete form to future generations.
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Sign, Symbol and Sacrament God is spirit, and those who worship must worship in spirit and truth. John 4:24 This scripture poses a problem for us: how can we humans of flesh and blood worship in “spirit and truth”? How can we who are material ever communicate with God who is spiritual, nonmaterial, and not knowable to the senses? The answer to this conundrum is found through symbolic thought. The sacraments are a way of symbolic thinking. This is not to say that the sacraments are not real, or “only symbolic”: symbols are the most real way of knowing something outside of ourselves that is immaterial, that is not measurable or quantifiable. The sacraments are ways of thinking symbolically and really about God and the things of God, and are so because God has ordained the Church to use the sacraments to reveal himself to us and objectively to communicate his grace to us. Symbols (from the Greek sým-bolon meaning “something thrown or put together”) are a way of knowing through understanding relationships between different things. We naturally do this: it is intrinsic to our human nature to use symbols to communicate ideas and concepts and to understand nonmaterial things. As humans, we are limited in our knowledge to perceiving things that are material, from
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which we then abstract ideas and think about spiritual matters. It is said that “all knowledge comes through the senses”, so even a direct revelation of God must in some way engage our very humanity through our sense faculty. The spiritual life does not happen without our bodies. It needs our senses to perceive. It needs the intellect to know the truth and the will to desire the good. It engages our emotions, our memory and our capacity for imagination. God speaks to us and loves us through the very mechanisms of our human nature, which the Lord designed so we can be in relationship with him. God uses material signs God therefore reveals himself to us through material signs, and gives us grace in a loving communion as both spiritual and material beings in a material world. He uses the physicality of what was once bread and wine to feed and nourish us with the Body and Blood of Christ. He cleanses us in the baptismal water that washes us physically and spiritually. He uses the gift of self in spousal love through the Sacrament of Matrimony as an objective participation in his divine love; similarly he gives us the gift of priesthood and religious life. This sacramental principle also mandates our concern for the needy in the words of Jesus that “insofar as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40). These are manifestations of grace through the material order that God has designed into the order of creation to help us know and love him and to receive his grace.
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