The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, one of Christendom’s most eminent and ancient houses of worship, is unique among the loca sancta of the Holy Land.
In Bored Again Catholic: How the Mass Could Save Your Life, Professor Timothy O’Malley of the University of Notre Dame asserts that boredom is something we should embrace, that it is essential to spiritual growth and gaining spiritual insight. Distracting ourselves when boredom encroaches inhibits our ability to receive this insight, or even to pray at all.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is a richly researched and beautifully produced book, welcome among the studies on Beauvais...
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 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.”
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
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.
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.
The cross is the most widespread and universal emblem of Christian faith, an image of suffering transformed into a symbol of salvation and hope.
Rudolf Schwarz is principally known as a church architect and mystic-poet-philosopher of sacred architecture.
The Chapel of Saint John the Baptist in the Church of São Roque: The Commission, the Building, the Collection
his beautiful book describes one exceptional commission of King John the Fifth of Portugal (1689-1750), placing the Chapel of Saint John the Baptist in the Church of São Roque (Saint Roch) as one of the highest achievements of world art.
Can a new sacred architecture be achieved in the twenty-first century, grounded in historical precedent but decidedly pioneering all at once?
South Carolina’s Sacred Spaces: Seventy Churches and Temples that Helped Shape the State’s History and Culture
Yes, there were times I questioned my sanity, but those doubts would evaporate when I would find an offbeat landmark or better, an eager person with local knowledge,” Bill Fitzpatrick writes.
Roger Scruton is without peer among contemporary philosophers.
Philosophical aesthetics tends to bend immediately to a discussion of beauty in the arts.
Thanks to Portuguese missionary activity in the sixteenth century, the Catholic faith took root among the people along the seacoast of Ceilão (as Sri Lanka was known).
An old Catholic prayer dating to the fourth century extols the incomparable beauty of the Blessed Virgin Mary with the words Tota Pulchra Es, meaning “You are completely beautiful.”
The Cistercian Arts provides a one-stop catalog that at once nourishes sufficiently and leaves one desiring more.
By any account, the Gothic period of sacred architecture is extraordinary in its scale and kinaesthetic impact on the viewer.
The use and role of art in the Catholic faith is boundless and intentionally so.
This engaging book offers a fresh perspective on how Christians understood and embodied their liturgical worship in the first three centuries.
Anne-Marie Sankovitch’s opus stands tall in its purpose to demolish tired narratives based on dichotomies between structure and ornament, and the Gothic vis-à-vis the Italian Renaissance, as she does in The Church of Saint-Eustache in the Early French Renaissance, a careful study of the most important French Renaissance church and the only parish church in Paris to be raised in the sixteenth century.
The eleven essays collected in this volume study the partitions separating the nave from the chancel or choir.
In 1961 the Anglican Peter Hammond famously addressed in his book Liturgy and Architecture the relationship of church design to a reassessment of the church’s purpose.
In 2014, I had the opportunity to pass through Durham to finally see in person the cathedral I had particularly admired from afar.
While any attempt to return the oft-shunned Renaissance painter Fra Bartolommeo to the public eye should be lauded, Albert Elen, Chris Fischer, Bram de Klerck, and Michael Kwakkelstein deserve special mention for Fra Bartolommeo: The Divine Renaissance. Written as the catalogue to accompany the eponymous exhibition held in the Rotterdam Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen from October 2016 to January 2017, the book not only highlights the technical skill and careful craftsmanship of the artist, it explores the religious nature and significance of his art, something all too often sidelined in major exhibitions.
In the two decades after World War II, American Christians built an unprecedented number of churches as a postwar baby boom and suburban expansion created tremendous demand for new houses of worship. The trend began in 1947, when Americans spent $126 million dollars on church construction, and peaked in 1965 at some $1.2 billion dollars.
The subject of half a millennium of historical scrutiny, what more about Leonardo da Vinci and his masterpiece the “Last Supper” remains to be said? In Young Leonardo, Jean-Pierre Isbouts and Christopher Heath Brown challenge the traditional account of Leonardo’s early career. They aim to uncover the real story of the development of this extraordinary artist, shedding fresh light on the context of Leonardo’s early work, and in the end, opening our eyes to the possibility of seeing Leonardo’s masterpiece afresh.
Combining equal parts rigorous architectural analysis and theoretical model for understanding the design principles behind the construction and performativity of early Christian and Byzantine liturgical space, Jelena Bogdanović’s monograph on the use of canopies in Byzantine churches is a welcome addition to the study of medieval art and architecture, as well as the framing devices, both physical and rhetorical, that were used to make the divine manifest in ecclesiastical space.
The Glorious Masterworks of Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kansas City, Missouri is an almost once-in-a-lifetime read on a single sacred space and its myriad of interlocking factors bound into a hefty, fascinating, profusely illustrated monograph.
This is the second edition of a book originally published in 2000 to enthusiastic reviews and which, one may assume from this new version, quite reasonably sold out. The text is only slightly rearranged and remains for the most part what it was: a series of judiciously culled selections from Ruskin’s The Stones of Venice, the sprawling half-million-word work that was published in three volumes between 1851 and 1853. The abridgement was illustrated with Ruskin’s original drawings and printed versions from his book, in addition to many photographs made by Sarah Quill.
Gittos opens her study of Anglo-Saxon church architecture with a personal recollection. Returning to the town in which she grew up, she considers an “unremarkable nineteenth-century building” that may be the successor to an early Anglo-Saxon chapel.
Was there an art committee for San Vitale in Ravenna in the sixth century? An emperor was coming—Justinian, who had recaptured this capital city from the Arian Ostrogoths in 540. An orthodox church, faithful to the Nicene Creed, was needed—one to match the brand new Hagia Sophia Justianian had built in the Byzantine capital, Constantinople.
Art history, which came of age during the secularizing nineteenth century, has spent over a century grappling with the problem of interpreting religious imagery.
Ever wondered why religious orders dedicated to poverty would build enormous churches filled with monuments to the wealthy and masterpieces of art?
This book is the final volume of the letters of Augustus Welby Pugin (1812–1852), the man most responsible for the nineteenth-century Gothic Revival.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 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.