That’s not what I expected to see.

This is such an interesting photo that I had to post it for your thoughts. I originally saw the top part first and then I opened it. Wow.

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  1. JustaSinner says:

    Is that the new neo-apoclypta style that’s all the rage in the Zombie Zones?
    Take a splendid Altar Piece and put it in a dud of a concrete coffin…my humble opinion.

  2. Ariseyedead says:

    Partial credit.

  3. Richard says:

    Looks like some poor pastor got stuck with a church built when brutalist architecture was in vogue, but he was able to find an altar from some decommissioned church somewhere and installed it. It would have been better to tear down the monstrosity of a building and start anew, but perhaps he didn’t have the funds.

  4. teomatteo says:

    a set for the film adaptation of “The Canticle of Leibowitz”?

  5. mo7 says:

    It fits perfectly into my meditation this week on Church as oasis from the oppression of the world. Then the single window on the right illuminating the Crucifix on the left is as if to say: this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.
    Interesting, but I’m glad my parish does not look like this. I prefer the entire church building to be the oasis, leaving the world outside. I’m following to read others’ comments.

  6. Charivari Rob says:

    Where is this? Is this all its own building, or a side chapel in a larger building?

  7. Pearl says:

    I agree with Richard.

    It looks like the perfect metaphor for the Church in Her current state.

  8. mysticalrose says:

    Ariseyedead: “partial credit”

    I’m dying!!!!!!!! Lol.

  9. mysticalrose says:

    It looks like the harrowing of hell — God breaking into the underworld.

  10. mamajen says:

    I have great difficulty concentrating in most modern churches, because the architect in me is churning out ideas to transform them into more beautiful, traditional buildings. There are almost always options.

    Here, I would love to see someone work with the interesting angles to produce something imaginative, unique, yet traditional. The interior is almost grotto-like and evokes (or could anyway) thoughts of Lourdes. Maybe tracery along the sharp edges, or a nice, tall baldacchino, or even an entire gothic-style skeleton floating beneath the concrete and enveloping the whole interior. I think of it in the way that nature will reclaim abandoned urban buildings, creating something beautiful and unexpected.

    I don’t know if any good Catholic universities teach architecture, but situations like this one—rehab this ugly modern church—would make fun projects. I would love to see what young, tradition-minded students would come up with.

  11. Gregg the Obscure says:

    Per someone on the twitter thread where our gracious host saw it, this is in Saarlouis Germany.

  12. eamonob says:

    A rood screen would do a good job of not only making it look even better, but also keeping people’s eyes from drifting up to the architecture.

  13. teomatteo says:

    mamajen, yes. First thing… a cement cutter and window placement. “Jerry, these are load bearing walls!!!” Designing a baldaquino would be masters thesis. fun.

  14. oledocfarmer says:

    Cognitive Dissonance

  15. Charivari Rob says:

    Thank you, Gregg. I couldn’t access the comments in the twitter thread.

  16. Ariseyedead says:

    Sanctuary having a bad hair day.

  17. Adam says:

    “The formerly baroque building has undergone numerous redesigns in the course of its history. In the 19th century, the baroque building was replaced by a new neo-Gothic building in two stages. Its nave was replaced in the 20th century by a concrete building designed by the architect Gottfried Böhm in the brutalist style. The tower front by the architect Vincenz Statz has been preserved from the neo-Gothic building to this day.”

    Modernists gonna modern, I guess.

    As brutalist architecture goes, I think it’s more interesting than most; certainly creates a visceral reaction within me, but I can’t say whether that’s good or bad quite yet . . .

  18. UnwaffledAnglican says:

    Honestly, I can’t decide whether the angles in the concrete are potentially beautiful or positively Lovecraftian. It looks like someone is doing their best with what they have, and is in desperate need of a good iconographer, Think what a fresco of the Theotokos of the Sign would do for that hexagonal space over the altar! With a little imagination, this could become the most striking bomb shelter in Christendom.

  19. Markus says:

    This is one most successful, recent RC churches constructed in Germany (perhaps the world), post VCII, IMHO.
    Read the translated link provided by Adam. The parish survived the French Revolution, Nazism, and Allied shelling (which destroyed the church), and flooding. The majority of the artwork is original.
    Construction materials and techniques, as well and style (Liturgical Emphasis) should reflect the time period. If not, The Renaissance, Gothic, and Pilgrim church buildings would not have happened. The Basilica was originally a Roman court and business center. Kneelers were invented by Early American Protestant churches some 200 years ago and slowly spread to RC churches throughout the world. It appears that the acoustics (mainly reverberation) would be fantastic in this space.
    The Church building is not only about feelings, but it must also function to serve the sacraments.

  20. Semper Gumby says:

    This is curious. The architects of this German church seemed to be inspired by the bunkers of the Maginot Line. Then again, those architects bypassed Beauty, while in 1940 the panzer divisions bypassed the Maginot Line.

    Speaking of Brutalism, Corbusier wrote: “Architecture is the establishment of emotional relationships with raw materials.” Thus, the difference between architecture and sacred architecture.

    Brutalism and the 1966 Bank of London in Buenos Aries, Argentina:

    “The project subverts many of the assumptions that were supposed to be immovable for a bank.”

    While we’re at it, something should be done about the Vatican’s 1971 Paul VI Audience Hall.

    Two quotes from Roger Scruton, who narrated the excellent documentary “Why Beauty Matters”:

    “Through the pursuit of beauty we shape the world as a home, and in doing so we both amplify our joys and find consolation for our sorrows.”

    “Beauty matters. It is not just a subjective thing but a universal need of human beings. If we ignore this need we find ourselves in a spiritual desert.”

  21. JPCahill says:

    What Richard said. It gives the impression of having been built by an avant-garde tasteless moron and inherited by a Catholic rector who was just, in the words of the old song, makin’ the best of a bad situation.

  22. prayfatima says:

    This is striking. My eyes went directly to the altar, the place where everything happens. It stands out brilliantly, like the light of Christ in the darkness. My thoughts on this picture are far from negative. If I were there I would think of the world being like the dark, confusing, sharp and unpredictable angles of the church and then I would settle on the altar and think about how everything makes sense with God, and all centers around His beauty and glory. Without Him, nothing would exist at all, and there would be a dark void (the church building). Even the cross on the church wall stands out, just as it does in the history of the world…

  23. Mac in Calgary says:

    The 19th-century neo-Gothic could have been worse than the 20th-century Brutalism. Maybe the people in the 19th century could have saved the Baroque version.
    The secular and the sacred often move in opposite directions and the rule in church architecture should be: If it’s Baroque, don’t fix it.

  24. Semper Gumby says:

    “The medieval cathedrals of Europe- there are over a hundred of them- are the greatest accomplishments of humanity in the whole theatre of art. They are total art on the grandest scale, encompassing architecture at its highest pitch, and virtually every kind of artistic activity, from carpentry to painting. They make use of the natural chiaroscuro of the atmosphere more successfully than any other artefact so that to visit the great minster in York, which has England’s largest collection of stained glass still in situ, is to witness a profound drama of colour.”

    “Suger [Abbot Suger 1081-1151] was perhaps the first man to grasp the importance of what future historians were to call the twelfth-century economic revolution and to apply some of the new wealth to the civilising process, of which great churches were the symbol and centre.”

    – Paul Johnson, Art: A New History

    The Brutalism depicted above will not inspire pilgrims eight centuries later as does Chartres, or inspire a future Michelangelo or da Vinci, a Bernini or Borromini. Brutalism is earthly, it is a moment in time, not of All Time.

    “Thou hast arranged all things by measure and number and weight.”

    “Wisdom hath built herself a house, she hath hewn her out seven pillars.”

  25. mpa says:

    As noted above, this is the work of Gottfried Böhm, who built several (in)famous structures in this style. Probably the most well-known is Maria, Königin des Friedens. Coincidentally (or not?), he passed away last week, at the age of 101.

    His work is certainly polarizing — I’m not sure any of it is entirely successful, but it is certainly interesting and imaginative, and I think rises above mere novelty or aggression, unlike the attention-seeking work of post-moderns like Gehry or Hadid.

    I am a partial admirer of brutalism, and I have always thought concrete, handled properly, can work very well in sacred architecture, and Böhm’s work hints at some of these possibilities (Gaudi and even Le Corbusier show others). Unfortunately, he seems to have been driven by the so-called “spirit of Vatican II”, and his sacred buildings are problematic.

    Sadly, this particular project is an example of another architectural crime — that of making additions to older buildings in a totally incompatible style. At best it looks like two buildings very close together; at worst, it looks like a tumour. A pity, since the project is of real architectural interest in other respects.

  26. ex seaxe says:

    Looking through Google’s translation of the wikipedia site I note that there have been two changes to Böhm’s building. The replacement of his altar with the restored 1910 ‘neo late Gothic’ one, which Böhm reluctantly thought a successful change. And the replacement of his lighting, which he deplored, as he had designed it to keep the structure in shadow with the light down at the congregational level, he did not intend his structure to be a focus of attention.

  27. michele421 says:

    Certainly everyone needs beauty, but exactly what constitutes beauty varies from one person, or group, to another. For myself, I’m somewhat autistic. I like bits and pieces of Baroque architecture but an entire church full makes me want to scream because I’m over-stimulated. Simplicity, if well done, can be every bit as beautiful as the most elaborate, gold-encrusted church around.

  28. clare joseph says:

    I was scrolling down this post on my phone and like you, Father Z., saw the top of the photo first, then the rest. And my response was the same as yours: Wow!
    I agree with prayfatima and michele421.
    I find this church beyond intriguing, and would love to worship there – once, anyway.

  29. Peetem says:

    Looks like the temple in the last movie of the Planet of the Apes series where the people worshiped the cobalt nuclear missle.

  30. Semper Gumby says:

    From Roger Scruton’s “The Soul of the World”:

    The Jewish patriarchs regarded the Promised Land not as a thing to consume and discard but as an inheritance, to be cared for and passed on. This feeling was bound up with two others: their conviction that God was a real presence among them, and their sense of the land as a gift- not a gift to the present generation to use as it will, but a gift to a people in its entirety and for all time, a resource to be renewed and passed on.

    The theme of the Holy City, which is the measure and ideal of all our settlements, was made central to Christian life by Saint Augustine in “The City of God.” We might summarize the message concerning the ancient temple, in its pagan as much as its Judeo-Christian version, thus: a true city begins from an act of consecration, and it is the temple that is the model for all other dwellings.

    …our habitat is ceasing to be a home and becoming instead a “machine for living in,” as Le Corbusier, the ideologist of modernist planning, described his ideal house.

    We shape our surroundings as a home by farming, by building, by arranging the world. Aesthetic values govern every form of settlement, and it is the nomads, those “passing through,” who acknowledge no responsibility for the way things appear around them.

    The sense of beauty puts a brake on destruction, by representing its object as irreplaceable. When the world looks back at me with my eyes, as it does in aesthetic experience, it is also addressing me in another way. Something is being revealed to me, and I am being made to stand still and absorb it. What is revealed to me in the experience of beauty is a fundamental truth about being- that being is a gift.

  31. ahcollier says:

    It looks like beautiful altar installed in a Nazi bunker from “Saving Private Ryan” or “The Longest Day.” Or maybe a Strangelovian bomb shelter.

  32. TonyO says:

    So many good comments, one way or another.

    Gumby, great quote from Paul Johnson. Thanks.

    momajen says: I don’t know if any good Catholic universities teach architecture,

    @mamajen, I don’t know that Notre Dame is a “good” Catholic University, but they did for a time house a good architecture teacher: Duncan Stroik. He built the (new-ish, 14 years ago) chapel of Thomas Aquinas College, which is both an award-winning church building and very beautiful. And very functional, e.g. choir music does very well there, unlike (just for example) St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington DC (which is visually nice but absolutely destroys music).

    mpa, I could see brutalism being useful in certain contexts, like a prison complex, or the Maginot Line, but it is completely wrong for churches. Even though this example is actually arresting and interesting, those values don’t redeem its bending the mind and heart away from the good and true and the beautiful.

    Michele421, I am with you on the difficulty of praying in some Baroque (and, even worse, some Rococo) churches. Noble simplicity is capable of great beauty AND of lifting up the mind and heart to God, and this serves the purpose of a Church better than mere ornamentation. That said, everyone has different limits on the degree of ornamentation that “works” for them. I run toward the simple, myself.

    Markus says: It appears that the acoustics (mainly reverberation) would be fantastic in this space.

    Yes, that was the second thing that I considered. But the first was that it looks like someone took C.S. Lewis seriously, where in That Hideous Strength he describes the room where Mark Stoddard will be indoctrinated and soul-deadened: where every single thing is … slightly wrong, by design. And the third thing was that all those angles might actually mess up the reverberations, by making them compete with each other and nullify comprehensibility. My guess is that except in an actual experimental laboratory, it is better to stick with shapes that have been proven to work.

    It’s a great space: it refuses to be placated or dismissed. But it’s not a good space. Greatness without goodness runs toward only one end, S_t_n. You can buy a vowel to finish that.

  33. codycarver says:

    First thing the popped into my head was “The Basilica of Saint Pius X”. The most disturbing church I’ve ever been in.

  34. Kerry says:

    From Winston Churchill’s speech, House of Commons Rebuilding:
    “On the night of 10th May, 1941, with one of the last bombs of the last serious raid, our House of Commons was destroyed by the violence of the enemy, and we have now to consider whether we should build it up again, and how, and when. We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us…There are two main characteristics of the House of Commons…The first is that its shape should be oblong and not semi-circular. Here is a very potent factor in our political life. The semi-circular assembly, which appeals to political theorists, enables every individual or every group to move round the centre, adopting various shades of pink according as the weather changes. …The party system is much favoured by the oblong form of Chamber. It is easy for an individual to move through those insensible gradations from Left to Right but the act of crossing the Floor is one which requires serious consideration. I am well informed on this matter, for I have accomplished that difficult process, not only once but twice. Logic is a poor guide compared with custom. ”

    This semi-circular-trapezoidal-Stargate Goa’-uld massif of concrete cannot become a Church of Jesus Christ, altar and Crucifix withstanding, any more than the sign, “Altar of Reason” altered Notre Dame into the whims of the “Liberté, Equalité, Fraternité” mobs.
    The nearest Catholic Church to this commentor, 11 miles distant, is a circular something, with a reversed hyperbola funnel-roof. There are two sets of heavy glass bank doors. The interior walls are brick. The men’s restroom is the first door on the right, just past the ashtray, uh, Holy Water font. It opens onto the sanctuary! The most distinctive feature is the roof. Take away the flashing light sign, the cross and statue of Christ, and the building reads: “Bank. Drive up facility.” Or, “Research Library”, the librarians station smack in the middle. (One wag once asked, “What was this building before it was called a Catholic Church?”)
    Catholic church born into the wrong body maybe…?

  35. Semper Gumby says:

    “Simplicity, if well done, can be every bit as beautiful as the most elaborate, gold-encrusted church around.” And also reverent. Good point by michele421.

    After the Protestant “stripping of the altars” and sacking of numerous churches and monasteries, an elaborate reaction in church ornamentation is understandable. On the other hand, it was overdone sometimes, producing church interiors that were distracting or even gaudy. Still, Baroque is preferable to Burlap Banner.

  36. Simon_GNR says:

    On seeing the upper half of the photo I was immediately reminded of Clifton Cathedral in Bristol, England. The revelation of the full picture was a pleasant surprise, like a flash of gold in the bottom of the pan or ray of light emerging from behind a grey cloud.

  37. Brian J. Wilson says:

    This comments thread is an object lesson in why Catholic artists often don’t even bother to offer their talents to the Church: they are sure to be condemned by the ignorant and the self-styled amateur experts. What is one of the most generally-acknowledged characteristics of Gothic architecture? Answer: it draws the eyes upward – heavenward. This design most certainly does that, and in a much more powerful way than does traditional architecture, because this style is unfamiliar. “But it’s so ugly . . . so . . .BRUTAL!” Well, mountains could be called “brutal,” I suppose, but most people generally consider them to be among God’s choicest creations. The contrast between the monumental concrete walls and the glowing decorative sanctuary appointments is marvelous. “But it’s not SYMMETRICAL!” Good. Neither is a natural collection of quartz crystals. There is order, but it is imperfect. A perfect embodiment of an imperfect world. I’d love to hear a beautiful organ voluntary in this space. There are also some choral pieces that would be transformational here. But you can be sure that there would be (ignorant and soulless) members of the congregation who would HATE the music, no matter how beautiful, if it did not coincide with their personal tastes and prejudices. De gustibus . . .

  38. hilltop says:

    Well, well. I suppose that Mr. Brian J. Wilson must be listened to and his peremptory declarations unswervingly adopted, for his condescension clearly indicates his status as an expert! Perhaps he is even one of his so-described “Catholic Artists” who withhold their work from pew-sitting rubes like us due to our pedestrian assumptions about the sacred. Oops, I went too far. Wilson says nothing about the sacred. My mistake.

  39. hilltop says:

    So let’s look closely:
    Scale-wise the building interior dwarfs the altar, giving one the impression of a reliquary rather than the setting and place of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
    Style-wise the building interior presents strong contrast with the altar, setting it apart, but anything that was not Gothic would accomplish that.
    Liturgically, there are hints of Tradition: the large kneeler at the front of the sanctuary, fine devotional statuary, and a fine crucifix.
    There is one glaring liturgical absurdity however: the free-standing NO altar of sacrifice is set forward and shifted “stage right” off center.
    And yes, this pew-sitting layman says that is wrong.
    And I also hold that unsightly, streaking water stains spoiling the exposed surface of the raw concrete wall immediately behind the exquisite gothic high altar does a very acceptable job of revealing the architecture’s shoddiness, but they run somehow contrary to the idea of noble simplicity that so many apologists for modernism keep pushing down our throats.

  40. Brian J. Wilson says:

    Well, hilltop, you (perhaps unconsciously) validate just about everything I said. Gothic buildings also dwarf the altar (indeed, the whole sanctuary is often obscured), but in this case, given the contrast between sanctuary appointments and concrete walls, the altar cannot possibly be lost, especially when the action of the Sacrifice is taking place. The water stains are too bad, but they are not necessarily the fault of the architect. I seldom enter any church without noticing water damage somewhere. Yes, I am a musician (the hints were more than obvious!), but I do not automatically consider anyone in the pews to be a rube – just the ones who maliciously criticise works of art which they don’t want to understand, being wholly unwilling to make the effort. Concerning sacredness, I most certainly did speak of it, though I did not use the word itself. Read again, and perhaps you’ll find it this time. In any case, my comments were not peremptory. I merely offered my opinion, albeit in a firm and decided way, as an antidote to the ignorance and IKWIL, AILWIK attitudes offered by too many in reaction to a significant work of art. If you want good art by good artists, you need to cut some slack and trust them to do what they do.

  41. Semper Gumby says:

    Brian J. Wilson: At ease, you’re embarrassing yourself. This is a fine discussion with varying opinions- until someone came berserking into the salon looking wildly about for a belly to sheathe their sword in.

    First, you don’t speak for Catholic artists, whose skills are superior to those displayed in the photo (missed the reference to Stroik above, oopsie-daisy). You speak for a sub-set: the pro-concrete crowd (by the way, good comment Peetem). Second, be advised there is a difference between a mountain and a man-made piece of concrete. Let me explain: concrete slabs do not have Swiss maids in dirndls yodeling and dispensing hot chocolate. Third, true, you are a “ignorant and the [sic] self-styled amateur experts” but don’t be too hard on yourself: in the last century intellectuals and “experts” murdered a hundred million people- a number, praise God, you are unlikely to match. So you got that going for you. Cheers.

  42. robtbrown says:

    Notre Dame architect Thomas Gorton Smith designed the monastery of Our Lady of Clear Creek and the church and quadrangle for the FSSP seminary in Denton, NE.

  43. Brian J. Wilson says:

    Well, where to begin . . . I don’t mind “embarrassing” myself in defense of worthwhile art. And I’m sorry that I seem to have entered your safe echo-chamber and ruined your tight little party, but I certainly did not come “berserking into the salon” and I had no other purpose than to defend a worthwhile artist from malicious criticism. I never claimed to “speak for Catholic artists,” though I am certainly entitled to express my opinion. I am not part of the “pro-concrete crowd,” but I AM open-minded enough to judge a concrete building on its merits. I am perfectly aware that there is a difference between a mountain and a building, but I’m clever enough to remember that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” For your edification, you might try looking into a book called The Organ in Church Design, by Joseph Blanton. Look up the photograph of the Holtkamp organ in St. Charles Church, Parma, Ohio. Mountain ranges on either side of the rose window. Finally, I think it is you who are overwrought in comparing me to Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc. I assure you, I hold no such malice, even against people like you. No, but I’ll quite you by pointing out that great artists throughout the ages have been maligned and misunderstood by ordinary people generally. It was only due to the practice of patronage that most of the great art in our churches was ever made. Alas, that patronage is at an end, and now we get LCD architecture and art work by tradesmen and incompetents, and our churches are filled with sappy sentimentalism or just plain junk mass-produced for people who Know What They Like, And Like What They Know. It is rare for a really significant NEW thing to be done for the Church. I try to be on the lookout for such things – and to be open to them. I try to value them. We would all benefit in the Church by making such an effort.

  44. Semper Gumby says:

    Excellent. Brian J. Wilson has responded to hilltop and this Kulturkampf has entered the bonus round.

    Let’s see here…

    “Well, hilltop, you (perhaps unconsciously) validate just about everything I said.”

    Ah, the standard you-fell-into-my-trap-you-meddling-kids opening. One wonders if Brian J. Wilson owns an old lighthouse on a rocky coastline.

    “The water stains are too bad, but they are not necessarily the fault of the architect.”

    The Titanic’s waterproof bulkheads were too few and too short, and there were too few lifeboats, but that is not necessarily the fault of the ship’s architect.

    “Yes, I am a musician (the hints were more than obvious!)”

    Ah, that rings a bell, a guitarist I think…

    “but I do not automatically consider anyone in the pews to be a rube – just the ones who maliciously criticise works of art which they don’t want to understand, being wholly unwilling to make the effort.”

    Get ‘er done!

    “Concerning sacredness, I most certainly did speak of it, though I did not use the word itself.”

    Tell us, Brian, does the word “sacred” cause you physical pain?

    “Read again, and perhaps you’ll find it this time. In any case, my comments were not peremptory. I merely offered my opinion, albeit in a firm and decided way”

    “If you want good art by good artists, you need to cut some slack and trust them to do what they do.”

    A cement wall is not art- it is barbarism. More than one fine church, paid for by hard-working parishioners, was built in the first half of the 20th century then torn down in the second half of the twentieth century by malicious bishops and cretinous artists without one concern for the generations of parishioners. You should be ashamed of yourself for demanding “trust.”

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  46. Semper Gumby says:

    TonyO: You’re welcome, here’s another:

    “Just as the bent of the medieval architects was towards light, so medieval artists in the north of Europe strove for realism. They wanted to depict, within the framework of the honour and worship of God, the world as it was, and men and women as they were. For people were not ideal creatures, as the Greeks thought. They were not ripe for apotheosis, as the Romans agreed [though Johnson is aware that after the end of the Republic a number of emperors integrated their egos with self-deification]. They were sinful and, without divine-grace, Hell-bent.”

    Fr. William Slattery in “Heroism and Genius”:

    “Medieval man wanted to Christify everything in the Gothic cathedral and all that happened therein; all was meant to be a total sensory experience of the truths of his religion; light, glass and stone, the waves of Gregorian and polyphonic chant, the sweet perfumes of oriental incense, the sight of soaring vaults, the rustle of silk chasubles, the touch of shining metal, and the shimmer of jewelled chalices. All these sensations, reflected Abbot Suger, raise man momentarily from the contingencies of his earth-bound existence to its eternal significance.”

  47. Markus says:

    I was not going to respond to these ignorant (lack of knowledge/experience) comments. However, as a recently retired liturgical, visual “artist” (not a self-given title) of a 50-year career, I am compelled to do so.
    A RCC building has one primary function; that is to support the Sacraments.
    Catholic Faith is not based upon “feelings” but upon intellectual Faith. (Augustine)
    Elements and materials are gifts from God. Even concrete.
    Liturgical architecture is heavily influenced the by the social, economic, philosophical, and theological elements of the historical time period.
    The Catholic Church has recently failed to properly educate religious, laity, and artists. They also commission non-Catholics (ignorant) to create religious art and architecture in the name of ecumenism.
    Aesthetics is no longer objective and is now subjective. It is now personal.
    The RCC hierarchy (and most laity) is ignorant of religious aesthetics and have abandoned the published “rules” and guidelines.
    Many romantics love all antiques, good or bad and have no clue of the historical time period they were produced. They are ignorant of the availability of materials, construction techniques, economic conditions, of the work.
    Architectural philosophy has changed. “Commercial” buildings are designed to last 20-30 years before destruction or major remodel.
    Money. Money. Money.
    Early Church: Catacomb churches, no money. Masses held in wealthy members’ homes.
    Constantinian Era: Basilicas/buildings donated to RCC by Roman government.
    Medieval Era: Romanesque, Gothic churches funded by royalty, diocesan, and monastic Feudal/serf system.
    Renaissance Era: Funded by church land holding, wealthy merchant guild system, royalty.
    Baroque: Plundering of the Americas. Where do you think all that gold for leaf came from?
    Post Renaissance to Modern Era: Church land holdings, laity, government (US Foreign aid post WWII Europe for example).
    Today: Laity/parishes. Most US dioceses are in financial trouble or bankruptcy.
    Polarization: The vast majority either support position A or B. Perhaps the answer lies in Plan C. Too ignorant or lazy to pursue?

    This church appears to be reaching for Plan C. Good.
    Civility and Catholic charity appear to be at an all-time low on Internet forums.
    Mr. Wilson do not be discouraged. Keep pursuing for the truth.

  48. GHP says:

    Dunno which is worse, the German or the Japanese.
    I only ever walked in there once. Terrible!

    — Guy

  49. robtbrown says:

    A simple exercise with a building like that is to imagine all the liturgical furnishings gone. Then decide what the building is supposed to be. An warehouse? Handball courts? A place where trucks are reaired?

    If it was designed to be a church, then the nonsense from the Vatican Jesuit Fr Spadaro comes to mind: In theology can be 2 +2 = 5. Actually, the sum is wrong: In his theology often 2 + 2 = 0, with zero referring to mass attendance and vocations.

    The same Kafkaesque arithmetic would apply to the architect.

  50. robtbrown says:

    “repaired” not “reaired”

    In theology it’s possible that 2 + 2 =5.

  51. Semper Gumby says:

    Markus: “I was not going to respond to these ignorant (lack of knowledge/experience) comments.”

    Er, you already did, may I refer you to your comment of 15 June.

    “Mr. Wilson do not be discouraged. Keep pursuing for the truth.”

    The suggestion here is that a pursuit of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful is far more rewarding. It will also assist you and Mr. Wilson with an attitude adjustment.

    You’re entitled to your opinion, but you and Mr. Wilson, in your haste and pomposity, are missing the bigger picture (no pun intended).

    Markus, here is one element of that bigger picture, a closer look at Chartres Cathedral, from Guideposts magazine:

    “The windows have fascinated people for so long that the cathedral now offers classes in the art of stained glass for both professionals and beginners. Students learn not only modern techniques for working with glass, but how early craftsmen made masterpieces like the 12th century rose window.

    “The people of Chartres are understandably protective of their cathedral and its glass. At the start of World War I and II, rather than chance the windows being damaged, the city had them all immediately removed and placed in the crypt.

    “Still, the cathedral was almost destroyed in 1944 when Allied forces suspected the occupying German army was using the cathedral tower as a lookout. Rather than simply destroy the cathedral as ordered [SG: this is an exaggeration for dramatic effect, the intent was to damage one spire used as a Nazi observation post, not destroy the cathedral], U.S. Army Colonel Welborn Barton Griffin [SG: a misspelling of Griffith], Jr. offered to slip behind enemy lines to find out the truth.

    “He and one other soldier were able to enter the cathedral and report back that it was not occupied by the Germans, thus saving it from being bombed. To this day, Colonel Griffin is considered a hero and friend to the city of Chartres.”

    From the Monuments Men Foundation, Herbert S. Leonard U.S. Army:

    “A bomb-disposal expert, he was responsible for dismantling twenty-two bombs placed around Chartres Cathedral.”

    Many things going on here Markus, have a pleasant day.

  52. Lurker 59 says:

    @Brian J. Wilson “This comments thread is an object lesson in why Catholic artists often don’t even bother to offer their talents to the Church…”

    1.) Catholic artists shouldn’t have to “offer their talents to the Church”, they should be paid and paid well for the craft that they have honed over a lifetime. If you know of a Catholic artist, and you have the authority and means to employ them for the sake of the Church, please do so. The Church should be seeking artists out, not the other way around.

    2.) The real problem is that those who have the authority, and means, in the Church to commission the work of Catholic artists, generally speaking, do not commission either artists nor Catholics. I know Catholic artists who do not get work from the powers that be because they produce Catholic art of high quality. Furthermore, if we look at artwork that has been commissioned by the powers that be over the last several decades, it is blindingly obvious that the majority of it is produced by individuals with very poor grasps of the Faith (if at all) which results in “illiterate” art that does not convey the Faith. Additionally, we notice that, while it can be argued that there is skill involved in the production of what is commissioned by the powers that be, it is not in fact something that draws the mind to beauty and thus to Truth. And no, beauty is not in the eye of the beholder; the term has very specific scientific, philosophical, and theological criteria.

    This is the new Russian Orthodox Cathedral for the Russian Armed Forces completed last year after 18 months and 82 million dollars. (My undergrad built a new library decades ago for 100 million dollars.). This is the level of grand artistic accomplishments that the Catholic Church should have been doing and should be doing today, but largely isn’t.

  53. pedantic_prof says:

    My favorite concrete church is the Pantheon in Rome…

    I’m grateful for the quotations many have supplied, some familiar but forgotten and others appealing avenues for informed distraction.

    I have to agree with the comment that some neo-gothic churches are worse than extreme brutalist ones. There are some ghastly, sugary 19th-century versions. And some wonderful ones, such as the untouched Pugin church that was the parish church of my youth (Our Lady and St. Wilfrid, Warwick Bridge).

    The exuberant decoration of baroque churches can be awe-inspiring. And so, too, can be gothic architecture. I remember going into Chartres Cathedral when I was 18 years old after having walked there on pilgrimage from Paris and seeing the sun shine through the stained-glass windows with their different hues of blue and feeling as if I’d been punched in the stomach, so utterly breathtaking was the moment. A completely, almost paradoxically different style of beauty is to be found in Nový Dv?r Abbey in the Czech Republic, built a couple of decades ago and designed by John Pawson. It is profoundly modern in many ways, yet deeply rooted in the Cistercian monastic tradition on the other hand. Not everything that is brutalist/modernist/concrete is a fail :)

  54. prayfatima says:

    Fr. Z, what are your thoughts on this church?

    Also, thanks for your prayers. I emailed you once and told you about our situation. God has since come to our assistance and now all is well.

  55. Markus says:

    Semper Grumpy,
    I gave my observations in the first post. What I was responding to were comments such as “concrete is brutal.” After considering the Pantheon, I debated whether to respond to such comments. Thus, I weakened. My error.

    Yes, Chartres is amazing and a good reference point. While my main medium was metals (including precious), I was also versed, and trained, in others. That included commissions for stained glass, which I designed and fabricated.

    On another commission, by another artist for a Chartes style labyrinth in front of a US basilica, I was commissioned to design the inlayed, metal center piece, which also served as a time capsule. Study of the Chartes labyrinth was essential.

    La Familia, Barcelona, has the most beautiful stained glass of our era. Please check out new photos of completed windows.

    You may be interested in the translation, of the thought to be the first “textbook”, on how-to make church art by the Medieval monk Theophilus. The title is “On Divers Arts.” Using his prayer, before starting a commission, is essential. It not only applies to liturgical artists, but anyone doing work for the Church.

    I am having a great day. Just finishing my last liturgical piece, for a poor parish in in diocese that is in bankruptcy, gratis. I feel blessed to be in a position to do this. Now to start shutting down the studio…

  56. Semper Gumby says:

    Brian J. Wilson and Markus: Calm down. There is an amusing parallel between your comments and the stereotypical prickly “artiste” offended at the slightest variance of opinion.

    Markus, note that you misspelled my name.

    Both of you: note how often you use “I” in your comments.

    Markus, you wrote “Civility and Catholic charity appear to be at an all-time low on Internet forums.” Ok, then you should reconsider your encouragement for Wilson’s wild-eyed entry into the salon.

    Brian J. Wilson wrote: “Finally, I think it is you who are overwrought in comparing me to Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc.” No, I didn’t. There were indeed intellectuals and self-proclaimed experts (artists, social scientists, etc.) who enabled dictators such as Mao and Stalin, inspired and propagandized street thugs, and were complicit in their crimes. This is an important distinction to grasp. To be clear, I am not referring to you two as “street thugs.”

    Both of you: Re-read your own comments and consider the tone. I’ll give you both a hint:

    Wilson wrote: “…but I’ll quite [sic] you by pointing out that great artists throughout the ages have been maligned and misunderstood by ordinary people generally.”

    Now, re-read hilltop’s comment from 16 June 8:09 pm.

    A second hint:

    Wilson wrote: “And I’m sorry that I seem to have entered your safe echo-chamber and ruined your tight little party, but I certainly did not come “berserking into the salon” and I had no other purpose than to defend a worthwhile artist from malicious criticism.”

    Note how Brian J. Wilson wrote “your…” and “your…” This discussion does not belong to me. Nor does it belong to you two. An important point to grasp. You could also explain your definition of un-malicious criticism.

    One last point. You two should not be afraid to learn from the ordinary, it can be one of life’s enjoyable little surprises. Jesus Christ learned carpentry from a man who walked to Egypt and back with his wife, child and a donkey. Cheers.

    p.s. You two gentlemen should feel free to provide links to your artistic output. No doubt everyone would learn something from the experience.

  57. Semper Gumby says:

    The “Monuments Men” is a 2014 movie loosely based on Robert Edsel’s 2007 book. That book was inspired by Lynn Nicholas’ 1994 book “The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War” and the activities of the U.S. Army’s MFAA.

    In her book Nicholas mentions Hildebrand Gurlitt, the director of the Zwichau Museum who was fired in 1930. Here is a 2013 news item about his son Cornelius Gurlitt:

    Tens of billions of dollars of paintings and other artwork are estimated missing. A sample from Poland:

  58. Joe in Canada says:

    a church should be readily accessible to the people who would pray in it. If it has to be explained by professionals, something has gone wrong.

  59. Markus says:

    Semper Gumby,
    Apologies for the name mistake, Word spellcheck.
    I have been on Fr. Z’s forums since the CompuServe days at This is the only site that I participate in (rarely). Took down my portfolio site a few years ago as I prepared for retirement. I do not sign my work unless it was required by law, i.e., precious metals. God knows what I have done, and He is the only one that counts.
    I am a member of one of the poorest parishes, in one of the poorest diocese (especially now in bankruptcy), in one of the poorest states in the US. I come from peasant stock. I do not practice elitism, (as it appears that is quite fashionable on this comment section at times) and all of my (high) friends (that are still alive) come from, and still are in, low places. Adios.

  60. Semper Gumby says:

    “Apologies for the name mistake, Word spellcheck.”

    No worries.

    “I come from peasant stock. I do not practice elitism…”

    Note that the two are not mutually exclusive. For example (note that this is an example, not a comparison to yourself), Adolf Hitler was an impoverished artist and an elitist. Regardless, there is evidence to doubt the veracity of your statement. Furthermore, you encourage Brian J. Wilson.

    “…as it appears that is quite fashionable on this comment section at times.”

    Another free-ranging gratuitous attack not supported by evidence. Provide specific examples (the same applies to Brian J. Wilson) of what you two consider “elitism,” followed by a non-economic defense of your comments as non-elitist. Cheers.

  61. Shonkin says:

    If that church (or “liturgy room” as the Novis Ordo people like to call them) were a muffler shop or auto service garage it would be considered ugly. As a church it is hideous.

  62. Shonkin says:

    @ Kerry: Your observation reminds me of what was said of the Saint Mary’s of the Assumption Cathedral in San Francisco, which was built in the Sixties after the previous cathedral had burned down. The front is glass windows and glass commercial-style doors. It looks nothing like a place of worship. A Presbyterian friend of mine called it the “Afterlife Savings and Loan Association.” I couldn’t have said it better.

  63. Semper Gumby says:

    Last year’s ridiculous Vatican Nativity Scene also had its defenders:

    “Many of the negative reactions are simply the result of not understanding the Nativity scene, Bottone said.”

    “This is not the sweet, warm nostalgia that Christmas usually generates,” Msgr. Verdon said. “But even in this intimate area of our religious lives, we have to grow in unexpected ways.”

    Typical. This is not Christianity, this is pretentious nonsense circulated in a San Francisco bathhouse or a Parisian cafe. There is now a Cardinal with homoerotic art in his cathedral, and an archbishop who authored (and apparently had a hand in writing Amoris Laetitia) “Healing with your Mouth: The Art of Kissing.”

    There is Art and Beauty, then there is Vulgarity and a juvenile fixation on the Prurient hidden behind pretentious drivel. These people rarely learn and rarely grow up.

    Back to the photo above.

    robtbrown: “A simple exercise with a building like that is to imagine all the liturgical furnishings gone. Then decide what the building is supposed to be. An warehouse? Handball courts? A place where trucks are repaired?”

    Good point.

    Shonkin: “If that church (or “liturgy room” as the Novis Ordo people like to call them) were a muffler shop or auto service garage it would be considered ugly. As a church it is hideous.”

    Good point.

  64. Semper Gumby says:

    From David Gelerntner- a Jewish friend of the cathedrals of the Middle Ages, a computer scientist and a recipient of a package from the Unabomber- “The Gothic Vision,” Weekly Standard, 2009:

    “Software has already played a role in research and writing on medieval architecture. The eminent Alain Erlande-Brandenburg’s recent book on the cathedral of Reims (2007) is part of the new “Grand temoins de l’architecture” series. Each book is based on a fabulously detailed software model, which allows one to study the building of interest from unexpected viewpoints.”

    “Allow me to discuss technology as a source not of tools but ideas. Computer science is useful in this case because software happens to resemble Gothic architecture in an unexpected way- “recursive structure” is important to each.”

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