Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A sense of sacred space

Because my interest in photographing stained glass has meant a growing interest in church architecture, I put a book called Theology in Stone by Richard Kieckhefer on my Amazon wish list, and my wife was kind enough to put it under the tree this Christmas. I'm sure I'll have more comments to make about it as time goes on, but here's one excerpt I found myself thinking about:

One is reminded of J. L. Pearson's declaration that his business was "to think what will bring people soonest to their knees." But then Pearson worked within the established forms of Gothic revival, whose vocabulary anyone would have recognized as whispering a summons to reverence. Saarinen's accomplishment [in designing the boxlike, hypermodern interior of Christ Church Lutheran in Minneapolis] was to achieve a similar effect without the conventions of recognized sacred architecture, engendering a spirit of reverence with what might have seemed -- and in the hands of another architect might well have been -- the desacralized vocabulary of a modern aesthetic.

I have two thoughts about this.

  • "Bringing people to their knees" seems like just what you want a church to do. So if an older style of architecture is nearly 100% sure to engender the spirit of reverence one wants in a church, why risk millions of dollars building in a new style, when the result might well be a building that drives people away, or worse, erodes their faith?
  • I'm glad he agrees with me that the modern aesthetic has a desacralized vocabulary. I've nearly always found "modern" churches sterile and deeply depressing. Like this one.