From "Renovation" to Restoration

May 2001By Michael S. Rose

Michael S. Rose is author of three books on church architecture: The Renovation Manipulation, Ugly As Sin and In Tiers of Glory.

The modern church renovation movement has its root in the experimental churches of the 1940s and 1950s. Until that time, Catholic church architecture in the U.S. was predicated on the Catholic Counter-Reformation model of the 16th century. The artisans of those churches expressed their faith -- an incarnational faith -- by means of elaborate high altars and tabernacles, special niche and aisle shrines dedicated to the saints, prominent pulpits for preaching, abundant art in stained glass, sculpture, murals, and mosaics.

These churches were designed with transcendence in mind -- bringing the heavenly Jerusalem down to us through the medium of the church building. These edifices taught the faith and helped form our Catholic consciousness.

The architectural experiments of the 1940s and 1950s discarded the Counter-Reformation model in favor of a modernist approach. The churches of previous centuries were deemed irrelevant by an elite corps of Church intellectuals and architects who would have greater influence in the years to come.

The post-war building boom in the U.S. saw the construction of many new churches, as parish rolls grew and the Church greatly increased in numbers. The churches built in this brief era were diverse in design, but many were obviously disconnected from the tradition of Catholic architecture, reflecting a more Protestant, or even secular, influence. This era produced hulking concrete edifices built in the form of conch shells, rocket ships, sail boats, origami figures, and circus tents.

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I was a student in the college of Architecture and Environmental Design at Arizona State University for two years, until I dropped the program because of my almost intolerable disgust for modernist and modular architecture. The highest form of architecture the mind of man has ever created is the Gothic. Yes, it is old. So is Jesus; should we throw Him out to? I hate whitewashed barns with no discernable crucifix. I love stained glass, soaring granite spires, marble altars, mosaic, and heavy mahogany pews. You say the Gothic is too rich? IT IS FOR THE GLORY OF GOD! And I say even it will always be too poor! The ugliest church I have ever had the misfortune of seeing in person was New St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco. I personally have a rather excellent bottle of wine ready to go on the occasion of its demolition. And I don't even drink. Posted by: JarrodAugustine
August 16, 2006 07:35 PM EDT
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