Church Architecture, Communism, and Feeding the Soul

St. Catharine of Siena here in Columbus[, Ohio] was built in 1962 and is an enduring sacred building in stone. Many people have said St. Catharine’s looks modern, but the inspiring thing is that it was designed according to traditional norms of sacred architecture — even though most other church designs had embraced a functional, cold modernism by this point in the 20th century.

The Basilica of St Lawrence Outside the Walls

The Basilica of St Lawrence Outside the Walls

It is cruciform in plan, has a wonderful canopy over the altar modeled on that of the basilica of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls in Rome and is — as we classical architects say — organically developed from historical models. What stands out to the common visitor is that it seems a little simplified, and its ornament is not your typical Gothic or Romanesque in style, yet it is traditional, deeply symbolic and yes, beautiful.

I find St. Catharine’s a wonderful place to pray. I can “read” the language of the architecture without effort and communicate with God peacefully amidst it. That’s the key question with any church: “Am I brought into the presence of God in such a way that I am inspired to converse with him?” The triad of truth, goodness and beauty in the church building and liturgy should ultimately draw the faithful into more profound communion with the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

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Throughout the history of the Church, the church building has often been the most—if not the only—beautiful thing that the working class man and his family would see on a daily basis. It was a school for the association of beauty with goodness and truth. Modern man is sick in his soul because he is denied the daily, direct encounter with beauty, because 1.) he is bombarded with ugliness and evil in the form of selfish and utilitarian sexual and violent entertainment, which reduces the other to an object for the use of the self, including the news; which many do not acknowledge to be another form of entertainment but instead a  vitamin necessarily taken daily, and 2.) his church trains him to look at himself, his fellow parishioners, and things only of this world. In this is the common man of the Church deprived of that prop and moral formation to which his fellow Christians of all times and places have recurred constantly and regularly.

It is not a matter of taste to stock the food pantry with quality food that will nourish the body, instead of junk food that is cheap and can be got in large quantity; to provide her sons and daughters with an encounter with beauty that trains the soul like a sunflower upward toward heaven, is a solemn duty of the Church. To feed them on fast food is culpable negligence.

Old St. Mary's Church, Rockville, MD (built about 1817)

Old St. Mary’s Church, Rockville, MD (built about 1817)

Interior: Old St. Mary's Church, Rockville, MD

Interior: Old St. Mary’s Church, Rockville, MD

New St. Mary's in Rockville, MD (built in 1967)

New St. Mary’s in Rockville, MD (built in 1967)

Interior: New St. Mary's Church, Rockville, MD

Interior: New St. Mary’s Church, Rockville, MD


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About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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One Response to Church Architecture, Communism, and Feeding the Soul

  1. Pingback: La Nozze di Figaro, and Feeding the Soul Part 2 | The Best Thing I Read Today

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