Monumental Assembly Halls

Temples for Protestants

by Per Gustaf Hamberg
2002 Gothernberg University, 272 pages, $
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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.

In the first three chapters, Hamberg mines period texts to clarify the different emphases of Catholic, Calvinist, and Lutheran churches regarding the architecture of worship. For instance, he compares the Jesuit Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino’s reaction to Protestant views on art and architecture, as stated in his Disputationes (ca. 1576), to the De Templis of Swiss Reformer Rudolf Hospinianus (1587), the “most important Protestant contributor to the controversy.” Although the buildings of French Huguenots largely disappeared after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, Hamberg demonstrates the influence of the work of architects such as Jacques Perret throughout northern Europe. His careful study of Des Fortifications et Artifices, Architecture et Perspective de Jacques Perret shows the overall conception of the fortified Huguenot town and the place of the Protestant temple within it—a simple “monumental assembly hall” potentially for both religious and secular purposes, designed to seat nearly ten thousand. Perret’s designs for rural churches are remarkably like the unadorned auditory spaces of early New England.

Hamberg contrasts Perret’s designs with a utopian work by the German Johann Valentin Andrae, Republicae Christianopolitanae, published in 1619 in Strasbourg. In the center of Andrae’s modest and practical city, the temple is a magnificent round structure, full of light and beauty and hosting a central crucifix. A true liturgy takes place at a central altar, the walls are adorned with pictures, and there is even a sculpted statue of Christ. Clearly Andrae was rejecting iconoclasm, and Hamberg argues that his design presages later eighteenth-century Lutheran church architecture. Another important text Hamberg discusses is Joseph Furttenbach the Younger’s Kirchen Gebau, a pamphlet printed in Augsburg in 1649 to instruct the designers of new, small churches for war-torn regions. Hamberg calls this “the first real handbook on the art of German Evangelical church building,” a text that established common principles, such as the separation of the sexes in worship, and promoted the combination altar-pulpit-font-organ, as well as the use of a secondary, “lay” altar.

The final four chapters describe in wonderful detail the churches of Dutch Reformed and Dutch Free congregations, the churches of Denmark-Norway and Sweden-Finland. For the scholar interested in the wider impact of these churches, the two chapters on the Dutch “Golden Age” buildings, with their “strange mix of traditional residua and radical innovation” are most illuminating. Hamberg takes the reader on an extensive tour of the most important Reformed churches of cosmopolitan Amsterdam (including the Suiderkerk and the Westerkerk) and also details the adaptation of Catholic churches by Reformed congregations. In Saint Bavo, Haarlem, for example, although Protestants cleared the church of Catholic art and stripped the altars, the center of preaching remained where it was, and the congregation crowded into the east end of the nave under the medieval pulpit. This sort of continuity was not uncommon in Dutch churches, leading to an interesting mix of old and new. Interiors retained some arrangements of older liturgical practices, and the style of architecture was throughout this period a mix of a surprisingly persistent medieval Gothic, Renaissance, and classical, often mixed together in the same buildings. In sum, Hamberg writes, “official Calvinism, with its doctrine of predestination and its often open hostility to art, did not prevent the development of a monumental church architecture.” Meanwhile, “there also emerged a Free Church tabernacle environment of Spartan simplicity … [that] came to serve such different persuasions as the Arminian Calvinists who were something of a cultural elite, the Lutherans with their appreciation of art and love of music, and the puritanically self-denying Anabaptists with their total rejection of any kind of beauty” (149). Hamberg’s final chapters on Norwegian and Swedish churches show a similar, if more conservative, development, with regional characteristics such as the common use of wood as primary building material. In his final chapter, Hamberg describes the Swedish progression from “a long, late-flowering Gothic survival of [indeterminate] confessional affiliation to an architecture classical in form but pronouncedly Protestant in spirit” (234).