A building passes a certain threshold when entering its fifties.
A short time ago I visited a Carmelite Monastery, and during my conversation with one of the nuns in the speakroom she mentioned that she had just completed Father Lang’s book Signs of the Holy One.
King’s College Chapel 1515–2015: Art, Music and Religion in Cambridge, a large-bound, brilliantly illustrated history coedited by Jean Michael Massing and Nicolette Zeeman, is a clearly written and sharply organized work that offers much for the interested reader.1
This valuable reference companion is a worthwhile addition to any theological library, institutional or personal.
Paul Binski’s Gothic Wonder: Art, Artifice, and the Decorated Style (1290–1350) is meant to do more than contribute to an understudied chapter of the history of English Gothic architecture. Binski does, of course, hope his book will do that for the so-called Decorated Style, but, more importantly, he invites us to a fresh experience. Indeed, his goal is to liberate the architecture of the period from the constrictive theories of the last two centuries.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, a close collaborator of Saint John Paul II (Karol Wojtyła) for over twenty years, recently summarized John Paul’s courage and faith. “He did not seek applause, nor did he look around anxiously, wondering how his decisions would be received. He acted on the basis of faith and his insight, and was willing even to suffer blows.” The cultural, historical, religious, and architectural milieu in Kraków of the early twentieth century, with its experiences of freedom and oppression, taught John Paul that the Church must work “not in a political way, but by awakening in men, through faith, the forces of genuine liberation.” In the words of John Paul II, this truth meant recognizing that “man cannot live without love . . . his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love . . . if he does not participate intimately in it.”
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.
When I first encountered the frescoes depicting the life of Saint Peter by Masaccio and Masolino in the Brancacci Chapel, still in their grimy state in the dank, dimly lit church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence, they were not on any tourist’s must-see list. I sat spellbound for about an hour, during which time I encountered no other living soul. Since then—especially after the late 1980s, when the chapel was reopened to the public with cleaned paintings and modern (over)lighting—their fame has renewed, which has lured crowds and inspired further scholarship.
Since their peak enrollment in the 1960s, roughly half of all Catholic schools have closed. The pace of closings has increased with enrollment attrition and with competition from the recent rise of charter schools; nationwide, more than two thousand Catholic schools have closed since the year 2000.
The Basilica of San Francesco in Assisi is one of the great monuments of the late Middle Ages. Begun in 1228, less than two years after the death of Saint Francis, it quickly became a magnet for pilgrims, and its construction was a source of controversy under the early minister general Elias of Cortona.
“The problems of the building art cannot be viewed apart from the problems of being.” This declaration can be found in Fritz Neumeyer’s introduction to the collected writings of Mies van der Rohe. It is repeated in Karla Cavarra Britton’s contribution to Transcending Architecture, and it is abundantly supported by the essays collected in this more recent volume.
Dedicated to the memory of Michele Piccirillo, O.F.M., a priest and friar who committed his life to archaeological research, this compilation includes studies ranging from wall paintings in the Abbey of Saint Mary in the Kidron Valley of Jerusalem (Crusader period), to the architectural reconstruction of the Church of Bishop John at Khirbet Barqa (Byzantine period), map mosaics depicting sailing in the Dead Sea (Byzantine period), and inscriptions in Elijah’s Cave on Mount Carmel (ninth century BC through the twentieth century AD).
How did medieval audiences experience beauty in a work of art? Mary Carruthers argues that two obstacles have impeded scholarly accounts of this experience.
George Frederick Bodley (1827–1907) was one of the most influential architects of the later nineteenth century, so it is surprising that no substantial modern publication covering his life and work existed until Michael Hall’s George Frederick Bodley and the Later Gothic Revival in Britain and America became available in late 2014.
The flood of new scholarship on Spanish Rome in the early modern world is certainly impressive if not somewhat bewildering, particularly since Elías Tormo’s two-volume Monumentos de españoles en Roma (1940) generated very little interest on the topic.
It is cold. The first gloom of dawn reveals the forms of a wretched octet of shaggy apes, carved into the structural support of an abbey cloister in the hills south of the Pyrenees. Bound hand and foot, these degenerate descendants of Atlas bear the weight of a whole monastery on their shoulders. A young novice strides along the cobbled arcade en-route to his choir stall for Lauds.
Cognizant that “the ceremonies of medieval liturgy are among the most underappreciated treasures of our Catholic heritage” (xviii), James Monti has written a masterpiece of liturgical history. In accessible prose, he shows how the medieval liturgy mirrors and expresses the Church’s development of doctrine.
To even the casual observer, clearly the Himalayan heights of quantity and quality that Western art attained from the fifteenth century until the end of the eighteenth century have never been attained before or since. And indeed, one might even say that it is the casual observer who has most noticed this, since the more “educated” have usually been miseducated so as not to see it. But the more serious student (and one not miseducated) has no doubt pondered: “Why?” And “why then, and not now?”
All buildings are made out of other buildings or parts of buildings. An architect looking for precedents can look here. In seventeenth-century Rome, an architect had Rome’s buildings and the extensive Museo Cartacio (Paper Museum)—the modest dal Pozzo palace.
What initially seems to be “only” an introductory book about the foundations of Catholic worship places soon reveals itself as a source of not only useful information but also, more significantly, profound insights and provocative meditation.
Few authors have considered the built environment in terms of Christianity. In his book The Space Between: A Christian Engagement with the Built Environment, Eric Jacobsen does just that.
On a hill in the Brookland neighborhood of Northeast Washington, D.C., on the campus of Catholic University, stands the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. To the task of writing the Shrine’s history, Thomas Tweed brings all the methodological resources of contemporary religious studies, from material history and ethnography to old-fashioned work with archives and census records.
The distinguished team of papal biographer George Weigel, his photographer-son Stephen (who handles the illustrations), and well-known art and architecture historian, professor, author, and tour guide resident in Rome Elizabeth Lev have collaborated to produce The Station Churches of Rome.
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.
To this day, the sixteenth-century artistic crisis in the Catholic Church remains choppy water for the art historian to navigate.
Motown has a particular claim on the American soul. As Keith Schnieder has observed, the narrative of twentieth-century America was written by those who came of age in the Motor City:
Sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, the otherwise obscure hill known as the Temple Mount has been the object of worship, warfare, and encounters with God. It has also seen complex building programs, from Solomon’s Temple to temples dedicated to Jupiter to the golden Dome of the Rock.
Though the Garden State offers considerable natural and man-made beauty, gazing out the window of a descending flight into Newark Liberty International Airport can be less than appealing as the view shifts from the impressive Manhattan skyline to the railroad tracks, piled cargo bins, and factory smokestacks that surround the landing strips and provide an initial greeting to the traveler.
The “threshold” of the sanctuary has been called the chancel barrier, templon, choir screen, lettner, jubé, rood screen, iconostasis, and tramezzo. Thresholds of the Sacred, a compilation of papers dating to the 2003 Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Studies Symposium, remains a crucial reference for the development and the application of these sacred barriers in church architecture.
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.
Edmund Bishop made an interesting comment that during the Middle Ages, “the Blessed Sacrament reserved was commonly treated with a kind of indifference which at present would be considered to be of the nature of ‘irreverence,’ I will not say indignity.”
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.
Saint Peter’s Basilica was founded by Constantine around 325 AD and built in a fashion typical of early Christian architecture. By the dawn of the Renaissance in the early 1400s, this structure was dilapidated and in urgent need of repair. Restructuring was begun in the middle of the fifteenth century, but less than fifty years later the goal of shoring up the edifice was supplanted by the grand idea of a completely new building.
The period from 300 to 700 was for a long time—for centuries—interpreted as the time of Rome’s, of Classical Antiquity’s, senescence. Everything declined and fell. Standards eroded. In the 1960s a new interpretation emerged that is today regnant in the academy although perhaps not in the broader culture.
This formidable book is both beautifully illustrated and exhaustively researched, and for what it lacks in historical synthesis, it makes up for in sheer quantity of detail. It covers a period that began with the completion of Sir Christopher Wren’s Saint Paul’s Cathedral, representing the eighteenth-century Baroque tradition, and it ends at a time when church design was largely inspired by Neoclassicism based on an archaeological revival of the antique past.
Three years ago, Kerry Downes published a compilation of at least thirty years of organization, analysis, and interpretation: Borromini’s Book.
Each great cathedral gathers around itself a group of amateurs—lovers, really—who take upon themselves the task of interpreting and creating the meanings of the great multi-media work…
Rituals evolve over time. Recently, a California funeral home offered mourners the option of staying in their car while paying their respects. Holy Ground does not address “drive-thru visitation” but discusses ritual space through a contemporary social-cultural lens.
Architecture as Icon is a catalogue of a joint exhibit presented at the Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki, Greece and Princeton University Art Museum. Editors Ćurčić and Hadjitryphonos served as curators of the exhibit, culling artifacts from museums in Europe and the United States.
Worship space acoustics is a branch of architectural acoustics which deals with the audible effects imparted to sounds produced within architectural spaces.
The preservation in Ravenna of more than twelve churches from the fifth or sixth century offers a rare opportunity to study the history of a major urban center of the Late Antique period.
This book is self-described as a “pocket primer for decoding the structure and purpose of ecclesiastical buildings.”
Architectural historians might easily overlook the Emerald Isle as a source of classical innovation, especially during a century scourged by the Great Potato Famine and mass emigration.
If you love old churches, and if you want a flavor of the history of the Catholic Church in America after it crossed the eastern mountains and expanded into the American frontier, you will want to add to your library Clyde F. Crews’s lovely book, A Benediction of Place: Historic Catholic Sacred Sites of Kentucky and Southern Indiana.
Reformation iconoclasm “stripped the altars” of northern Europe, the story goes, leaving bare and colorless churches in its wake.
A Gothic cathedral is more than the sum of its individual stones, and Philip Ball’s Universe of Stone, Chartres Cathedral and the Invention of Gothic elucidates with clarity and depth the history of this captivating monument and its place in the evolution of Gothic architecture.
In their introduction, the editors succinctly state the case for the city of Rome’s striking preeminence in the collective cultural consciousness of western Christians during the Middle Ages, a manifestly important premise which has received less attention than might be expected in the over a century since the appearance of Arturo Graf’s monumental Roma nella memoria e nelle immaginazioni del medio evo.
A brilliant study suffused with vivid historical commentary, this book elucidates the morphological, spatial, and communicative causes of the retable altarpiece in the late medieval and early Renaissance kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula.
Books on ancient architecture are typically focused on a specific region or culture, whether it is Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman or pre-Columbian. They are written by specialists in a particular field and published for specific audiences. G. J. Wightman’s Sacred Spaces, in contrast, covers virtually every geographic region, time period and culture from the ancient world.
This densely written and well-researched book is unlikely to adorn the shelves of most practicing professionals. This is unfortunate, as Politics of the Piazza offers a unique analysis of a subject that should be a matter of concern to all practitioners—the purpose and origins of the piazza, a component of urbanism that, although particularly significant in Italy, remains recognizable throughout the western urban tradition.
Just like our most revered religious practices, our best buildings are imbued with a deep sense of history and tradition. Any historic building, however, needs to be periodically updated in order to remain useful and relevant, which leads to the fundamental question of how to do so in a manner that is both meaningful today and respectful of its past.
Nigel Yates left both a considerable legacy and a void in the field of ecclesiastical history when he died last year. In his final work, he researched and catalogued the planning histories and liturgical practices of many hundreds of parish churches in the United Kingdom and western Europe.
In Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel the Idiot, protagonist Prince Myshkin states, “I believe the world will be saved by beauty.” In the Beauty of Faith, Jem Sullivan makes a similar proposal, arguing that it is imperative that we employ the beauty of Christian art to spread the good news of Jesus Christ and his Church.
In America’s First Cathedral, Mary-Cabrini Durkin presents a beautifully illustrated history of the Baltimore diocese’s cathedral from Latrobe’s original designs through its rise as a national symbol of American Catholicism, culminating in years of restoration that have only recently been completed.
This is a richly researched and beautifully produced book, welcome among the studies on Beauvais…
Unlike any other building, a church is “an accessible public space amid an increasingly, and occasionally frighteningly commercial and privatized world…”
For those who have borne witness to the architectural and liturgical vandalism that has occurred over the last half century, there will be comfort in this groundbreaking work…
This book sparkles with erudition and clarity worthy of its title…
Excepting scholarly articles and occasional references in monographic studies of Cass Gilbert, texts addressing the architecture of Minnesota classicist Emmanuel Masqueray are typically hard to come by…
The author of this book, Roger Homan, is professor of religious studies at the University of Brighton in England. For Anglophiles the slim volume will prove to be an absolute treat, for Professor Homan casts new light on English figures and subject matter seldom treated in general surveys of Christian art and architecture. This is done, however, at the expense of omitting major figures and monuments from the modern movement on the Continent and in America, thus rendering the book either extremely chauvinistic or the right book with the wrong title.
John Gaw Meem, while relatively unknown outside New Mexico, is regarded among New Mexicans as their most significant interpreter of regional forces in architecture. Lehmberg’s book, the first to focus on the architect’s ecclesiastical designs, provides a careful account of Meem’s engagement with church commissions from about 1920 until his last church design in 1949. Meem began his career not by designing, but by restoring churches, especially very venerable ones—such as the San Estevan del Rey Mission, the only surviving church built prior to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, and Saint Francis Cathedral of Santa Fe, erected by Bishop Lamy in the 1860s. It is likely that this early involvement in restoration set Meem’s approach to both sacred and secular architecture throughout his career.
In 1955, Per Gustaf Hamberg published in Swedish his Temples for Protestants, an extraordinarily well-researched, nuanced study of the early (sixteenth- and seventeenth-century) Reformed and Lutheran Churches of Northern Europe and Scandinavia. Now, finally, this illuminating and useful book is available in English. As a scholar of early American Protestant architecture, I found myself wishing I had had access to this book years ago. It contains numerous, thorough descriptions of churches and fascinating discussions of important relevant primary texts of the period, many of which are unavailable in English. The translation is fluid, despite minor inaccuracies. Lengthy quotes in Latin, German, French, and Italian are not translated, which is a bit frustrating for the provincial. Nonetheless, this is a necessary book for anyone interested in the religious architecture of this period and its influence on later buildings.
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.
Do the increasingly ubiquitous evangelical megachurches that dot the national landscape represent something new in either Protestant architecture or American culture? In their book, From Meetinghouse to Megachurch: A Material and Cultural History, authors Anne C. Loveland and Otis B. Wheeler respond to this question with an emphatic “No.” Rather than representing something new, Loveland and Wheeler contend that evangelical megachurches are part of an ongoing evolution whose antecedents include Puritan meetinghouses, revival tents, tabernacles, and mainline Protestant churches. A sense of continuity that persists even as American church architecture changes is the book’s major theme.
The historian and the artist bring different questions to a figure like Ralph Adams Cram. The historian wants to understand what social and cultural forces compelled a modern businessman-architect, practicing in the twentieth century, to make buildings in the style of the fourteenth; the artist merely wants to know if they are any good. Do his buildings live—live in the artistic sense—or are they merely clever writing in a dead language, like someone writing Latin verse today? If the answer is that his buildings do not live, then there is hardly any point in trying to answer the first question.
Following completion of construction in the 1620s, and reaching a peak in the first half of the 1630s, a dazzling array of artists worked side by side creating a series of some twenty-four works of art, primarily altarpieces, which, in their programmatic relationship to one another and to the hagiographic traditions of the Church, proclaimed the complex identity of the Papacy and the liturgical mission of “the cathedral of the world.”
Taking to heart the final words of the current Code of Canon Law, that “the salvation of souls, which in the Church must always be the supreme law,” the recent book by Michael S. Rose gives clarity and advice to the troubled soul experiencing a church renovation project. The Renovation Manipulation: The Church Counter-Renovation Handbook attempts, in the words of its author, to “give the average lay Catholic a clear understanding of the renovation process and ultimately the knowledge necessary to bring about honesty and integrity in the renovation of existing churches as well as in the construction of new ones” (p.6).
REJOICE! is a very dumb title for a very smart book. The Rizzoli publication, which is a compilation of twentyfour essays by a variety of Italian scholars, looks at 700 years of papal artistic patronage for the Jubilee Years that brought pilgrims from around the world to Rome. The superbly illustrated coffee-table book covers both art and architecture.
Art and Crusade in the Age of Saint Louis treats two significant objects of royal patronage: the Arsenal Old Testament, a lavish illuminated manuscript the king commissioned while on Crusade in the Holy Land, and the Sainte-Chapelle. The author’s contention is that both works are kinds of political and religious propaganda meant to justify the ideal of the Crusade.
John Saward’s graceful and insightful book was developed from the Bernard Gilpin Lectures which he delivered at the University of Durham in 1996. The “theological meditations,” and this is the phrase Saward correctly uses to describe his prose, “lead us to understand what beauty is, and how it can be recognized in works of art and holy lives
Notre-Dame of Amiens (1220-ca. 1269) is the largest in area of the French Gothic cathedrals and second to St. Pierre of Beauvais in height. Praised poetically by Ruskin and beloved of pilgrims and touists, it has nevertheless been seen by art historians as a copy of Chartres or a poor- man’s Reims
At first glance, Gregory W. Tucker’s America’s Church: The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception might seem to be yet another attractive religious shrine commemorative volume destined to take its place in that inexorably horizontal, closed position where picture book meets coffee table. But both the National Shrine and Tucker’s volume, which lovingly recounts its history, are indeed well worth our more sustained attention.
David W. Dunlap’s From Abyssinian to Zion: A Guide to Manhattan’s Houses of Worship taps into a very elemental part of my New York—its oft-neglected churches, synagogues, and temples
Christopher Martin’s A Glimpse of Heaven is a spectacularly illustrated gazetteer of over one hundred Catholic churches in England and Wales, photographed in color by Alex Ramsey
Readers of this journal, passionate about the ability of architecture to “speak” the glory of God, have every reason to rejoice at this new publication by Aidan Nichols, O.
This series of essays, edited by Louis Nelson, examines how people have interpreted the idea of the sacred in American history.
Artists, like pedigree dogs, go in and out of fashion.
It seems only too seldom that people of high ideals make much of an impact on the general populace, let alone realize those ideals. This was not the case with regard to Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin and the Cambridge Camden Society.
Nature certainly has had its infulence on the art and architecture of Chicago, but in Ecclesia Panos Fiorentinos shows the resilience and dedication of man, despite the hardships and ravages of nature and the Chicago urban landscape, in forming the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago.
Few scenes are more compelling in Renaissance art than depictions of the Apocalypse and Last Judgment. But before Michelangelo, two artists embarked upon a program depicting the End of Time for the Cathedral of Orvieto.