Duncan G. Stroik
Duncan G. Stroik is the editor of Sacred Architecture Journal.
Articles by Duncan G. Stroik
As buildings get more complex, owners hire individuals to assist them in working with the architect and contractor.
One of the most noted artists of all time was also notorious for being a terrible businessman.
The commissioning of sacred images in a church in one of the greatest art cities of Europe. A story of the vicissitudes of the Humiliati (Humbled Ones), a wealthy religious order who built substantial churches and monasteries in northern Italy. People may know their Church of Madonna dell’Orto, one of the masterpieces of late medieval architecture and Renaissance art in Venice. But their largest house was the Church of the Ognissanti in Florence, a building that imitated the preaching halls of the mendicants, where the Humiliati patronized some of the finest artists of their day.
Have you ever noticed the incredible number of ways Catholic churches include iconography? From signs and symbols to images of the saints and angels, from paintings of the Trinity to sacra conversazione, biblical scenes, and even historical scenes (i.e., the battles of Lepanto and Vienna), the imagery of Catholic churches is rich and varied. So, when a colleague recently journeyed to Rome in search of sacred architecture, I challenged him to find one church with the “American church formula.” What is the American formula? A life-size crucifix centered behind the altar, with a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the left and Saint Joseph on the right. Many American Catholics see this as the “traditional” solution for a church layout, because it is all that they know. Yet in over five hundred historic churches I have studied in Rome, Florence, and Venice, I have seldom seen the formula (so ubiquitous in the U.S.) employed.
What is the state of sacred art today? Not surprisingly, many of us see it as mediocre, impoverished, or in crisis.
We all know that the poor need food and clothing, decent education and good jobs. But what about their spiritual and cultural needs? Can a church building serve the poor spiritually through the material? It is an expensive proposition, but I would suggest the answer is yes. Which leads us to the question, how can we design a church for the poor?
What is the architectural corollary of Saint Francis of Assisi’s “holy poverty”? Is it the shantytowns of the third world or the stylish minimalism of first-world condiminiums? When we build churches, schools, and soup kitchens, should they be cheap or at least look cheap?
Common wisdom has been that the Counter-Reformation sought to undo Renaissance achievements and to enforce a narrow and prurient view of art. This fine set of essays offers a more nuanced view of the debates that accompanied the reform of art during this time.
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 XVI1
Would you like to get a glimpse into the philosophy of the Liturgical Movement in the 1930s? This period between World War I and Vatican II witnessed some important ideas which were to have a great influence on the renovation and building of Catholic churches.
The English reformation was not kind to altars and art. Along with the dissolution and destruction of the monasteries, other acts of iconoclasm were perpetrated during the reign of Henry VIII. Under his son, Edward VI, a plan was put in place to transform the liturgy, the theology, and the art of the English church.
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.
Three miles from Disneyland there is another famous theme park, which proclaims itself as “America’s Television Church.” The Crystal Cathedral, perhaps the first mega-church in the United States, is about to undergo conversion classes so that it can finally get the cathedra and bishop it has always wanted.
A well-known architect, who was really an artist, was asked to design a cathedral. The project did not go smoothly. He was difficult to work with, had his own ideas, lost his temper when things did not go his way, and kept asking for more money.
It is well known that the conventional wisdom on building churches is in disrepute. Even the unwashed masses are revolting against the dictates and iconoclasm of the past fifty years…
Back in the late Twentieth century I received an invitation to teach architecture at small midwestern Catholic college…
Unemployment is at a high level, and the economy is in recession. In order to give thousands of people jobs, the state embarks on some major infrastructure projects designed by an award winning architect. A parable for how the U.S. government can get the economy back on track? No, the story of how Pope Alexander VII and Gianlorenzo Bernini built Piazza San Pietro, the greatest public piazza in the world.
Part of the history of art and architecture is the revivification of elements found in the past…
The discovery, or rediscovery, of linear perspective in the Italian Renaissance is usually credited to Filippo Brunelleschi, the architect of the dome of the Florence Cathedral. Another nearby monument that may be the first existing example of one-point perspective is the funerary chapel in Santa Maria Novella painted by Masaccio in 1428. In a complex and theologically rich explication of Masaccio’s Holy Trinity, with the Virgin, Saint John and Donors, John Moffitt argues that the point to which all of the lines converge is placed at the bottom of the picture in order to correspond with the elevation of the host during Mass. Thus God the Father stands on an altar and presents his crucified Son to the viewer within a perspectival architecture that converges on the Eucharist. The consecrated host becomes the liturgical focal point of the chapel and of the painting.
People often ask me why we have not been building beautiful churches in recent decades. It is not a simple answer of course: there are the changes from Vatican II; the embrace of modernism by the architectural profession; the expense of craftsmanship; the parsimony of the faithful; and the belief that the church is merely a functional building. Today, when laity and clergy alike desire to build beautiful churches again they are confronted with a limitation that their great grandparents did not have to contend with: the strict monetary policies of the diocese.
Just as the Cathedral liturgy is meant to be an example for the diocese so too should be the art and architecture of the Cathedral.
This series of essays, edited by Louis Nelson, examines how people have interpreted the idea of the sacred in American history.
One of the myths that continue to haunt us is the notion that Vatican II required a totally new architecture to provide for the radically new liturgy.
What is it that makes a Catholic church different from other churches?
And Jesus entered the temple of God and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you make it a den of robbers.” And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. Matthew 21:12-14
People often ask me what texts one should read in preparation for designing or renovating a Catholic church.
Over the years, church buildings have received numerous titles: domus Ecclesiae, domus Dei, temple of the most high, image of the eternal, holy place, and body of Christ. John Cardinal Newman called churches gospel palaces. In this Jubilee year dedicated to the Eucharist it is appropriate to reflect on the domus Eucharistica, the church as a Eucharistic house. Our churches are the places we gather to eucharist, to thank God for His marvelous gifts.
By all accounts, the past forty years have produced few church buildings that the American laity are proud of and fewer of which the cultural establishment approves. No doubt some credit for the present state of architecture should be given to a small booklet entitled Environment and Art in Catholic Worship (EACW) presently being revised.
One of the reasons that we are amazed by the beauty of architectural masterpieces is that they appear to go beyond the ability of mortals to conceive them. Their harmony and proportions seem to have been constructed by angels. In order to bring to fruition these sacred works, ranging from the nave of Amiens Cathedral to the exterior of San Vincent de Paul in Los Angeles, many hills have to be climbed.
There are many so-called principles of church architecture which are in reality myths.
Welcome to the inaugural issue of Sacred Architecture, a journal committed to the promotion of the cultural heritage of the Church. In publishing a variety of articles and news items, Sacred Architecture sees its mission as keeping you up to date on how bricks and mortar are being used to build up the City of God.