Posted tagged ‘architecture’

Art deco chapels at Loyola University – Chicago

June 25, 2008

My wife is an architect; I have been well trained. If ever I go somewhere by myself, my chief responsibility is to take a ridiculous amount of photos of the churches I visit.

So for your enjoyment, some nice examples of art deco sacred architecture (mixed with some gothic elements). The main chapel at Loyola, Madonna Della Strada, speaks for itself. The smaller chapel is the Stella Maris Chapel, which is inside an approximately fourteen story art deco building that used to be a women’s college. (Click the picture to see all the photos). 

Madonna Della Strada, Loyola University Chicago

One final note – while I have been trained to take photos, I haven’t been trained to take them well necessarily, at least, not as well as my wife.

More outside the walls…

June 2, 2008

This is particularly troubling. Secular atheists want to appropriate beauty and art for their own means. From the British Magazine Standpoint, an article by Alain de Botton proposing the creation of a secular religion.

…What would such a peculiar idea involve? For a start, lots of new buildings akin to churches, temples and cathedrals. We are the only society in history to have nothing transcendent at our centre, nothing which is greater than ourselves. In so far as we feel awe, we do so in relation to supercomputers, rockets and particle accelerators. The pre-scientific age, whatever its deficiencies, had at least offered its denizens the peace of mind that follows from knowing all man-made achievements to be inconsequent next to the spectacle of the universe. We, more blessed in our gadgetry but less humble in our outlook, have been left to wrestle with feelings of envy, anxiety and arrogance that follow from having no more compelling repository of our veneration than our brilliant and morally troubling fellow human beings.

A secular religion would hence begin by putting man into context and would do so through works of art, landscape gardening and architecture. Imagine a network of secular churches, vast high spaces in which to escape from the hubbub of modern society and in which to focus on all that is beyond us. It isn’t surprising that secular people continue to be interested in cathedrals. Their architecture performs the very clever and eternally useful function of relativising those who walk inside them. We begin to feel small inside a cathedral and recognise the debt that sanity owes to such a feeling.

In addition, a secular religion would use all the tools of art in order to create an effective kind of propaganda in the name of kindness and virtue. Rather than seeing art as a tool that can shock and surprise us (the two great emotions promoted by most contemporary works), a secular religion would return to an earlier view that art should improve us. It should be a form of propaganda for a better, nobler life…

But let’s think here – can art really point to a better, nobler life without belief in God? What is to define beauty, if truth has no meaning other than what humans decide? What is there to lift us up to, if there is no example beyond ourselves? And isn’t the concentration of today’s ‘art’ on shock and surprise directly related to a decline in faith?

This is precisely why a loss of Catholic traditions in art, music, liturgy, and architecture and the influence of contemporary theories of art in the mass is so poisonous. Just as contemporary art chooses only to offer us veneration of ourselves with no possibility of transcendence, modern church architecture and ‘mass in the round’ wreakovation attempts to bring the focus on the congregation, that group of “morally troubling fellow human beings” rather than pointing us to Christ.

Stepping outside St. Blog’s…

June 2, 2008

You’d never imagine the strange theories that abound. Consider this from a popular economics blog, EconLog:

Religious architecture and art were to medieval feudalism what advertising and commercialism are to modern capitalism: A rather effective way to build support for the status quo using aesthetics instead of argument. My claim, in short, is that Notre Dame played the same role during the Middle Ages that fashion magazines play today. Notre Dame was not an argument for feudalism, and Elle is not an argument for capitalism. But both are powerful ways to make regular people buy into the system.

Now I find this rather interesting. Part of me simply wants to ridicule the preposterousness of this comparison, while on the other hand this blogger has a bit of a point, if a bit misconstrued, or perhaps, too focused on economic systems.

Beauty does attract one to God and the Church, and aids the faith. (I honestly don’t know how it could attract one to feudalism.) One of the points of Ars Catholica is that these externals, whether a beautiful cathedral, a piece of sacred polyphony, or a traditional food tied into the liturgical season, are all ways to bolster one in the faith. They help to create a shared culture, and they appeal to us as the emotional and rational creations that we are. They are not a substitute for the faith, but a means to remind us of our longing for God and our commitment to the faith. Elle doesn’t sell beauty; it sells things that attempt to make the wearer or user beautiful. The Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Paris uses beauty (quite literally with those gothic arches) to point us to look beyond ourselves. So in a since, that blogger is right – both Elle and Notre Dame are using aesthetics to appeal to the viewer. And if we do admit, hypothetically, to his premise that these aesthetics are used to support the status quo, what does it say about today’s status quo?

Your thoughts?

Stroik sighting!

May 13, 2008

From everyone’s favourite contemporary Catholic architect Duncan Stroik, here are pictures of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Guadeloupe in Wisconsin – construction in progress (but nearing completion).

The Gift of La Sapienza

May 11, 2008

(photo by ex novo from flickr)

On this Solemnity of Pentecost, I am reminded of a piece Zenit’s Elizabeth Lev wrote on the church of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza in Rome, designed by Francesco Borromini. Ms. Lev originally wrote back in January after students and faculty at the University of Rome (La Sapienza) protested the Pope’s visit there. Her piece reminds us of the University’s papal beginnings, Sant’Ivo’s design as an answer to the tower of Babel, and what responsibilities come with a Christian education and our sealing with the Holy Spirit. Note the urns and the ring of tongues of flame at the apex of the tower. Read her complete column here.

The exotic spiral perched atop the cupola has been endlessly photographed by tourists, surprised to see such an eccentric touch in Roman architecture. The exterior of Borromini’s church elaborates the same theme as the interior in the lantern at the top of the dome. 

The peak of the dome twisting toward the sky recalls the Tower of Babel of Genesis 11. The grandiose construction was planned by men who thought they could reach heaven through their own ingenuity. God thwarted their plans by confounding their speech so they would not understand each other. 

Borromini crowned his Tower of Babel, however, with a ring of tongues of flame. Here, he evoked Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended on the heads of the gathered disciples, giving them the ability to speak in many languages and still understand each other so as to proclaim the Gospel among the nations.