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Church Interior

Reflections from the Nave

Updated: Aug 11, 2022



St Lambertus Church in the Village of Immerath. Photo Credit: Huffington Post

Archeological sites of a religious nature have yielded more anthropological data than the any other class of archeological sites on the planet.

Ritualistic acts of a religious nature are cultural cornerstones. They are cultural anchors buttressing the granite blocks of Stonehenge, giving endurance to the Mayan temples of the Yucatan. From Egypt’s Giza Plateau to the numerous Greco-Roman temples of the Mediterranean region, religious traditions have been an important part of the most prolific civilizations of our collective past. What we know of those who have come before us and their comprehension of themselves and the world in which they lived, has been colored by our understanding of their religious monuments. For it is often that these are all that remains to tell their story. They are our ancestral legacy, our patrimony and our collective inheritance.

Twenty-first Century Humanity is fast losing its understanding of legacy and patrimony. As we relearn to conserve the resources of the earth for utilization by future generations, so too must we recognize that like generations before, our greatest eulogizer will be our architecture. What story will architecture tell of Twenty-first Century Humanity? Will it be a complete and accurate narration of our times if we adaptively convert all of our churches, masque and synagogues into condominiums, recreational centers or restaurants while working in earnest to preserve with the utmost of historical accuracy the great homes of the wealthy and houses of commerce and industry? What will future generations think of us? That we practiced a religion of commerce while worshiping the god-man deities who controlled it?

The natural progression of society does not warrant that we preserve every structure of historical character whether they be places of worship or not. However, we must strive to conserve those structures that are of our time and that best tell our story - religious houses that narrate in art and architecture, the saga of our faith and communal religious experience. As world nations continue

to move away from a Christocentric orientation, we would be wise to acknowledge now, before it is too late, the immense role that religion has played in the cultural formation of humanity. As the institutional contraction of Christianity continues, we should work to retain the cultural memory of our religious practices, exercises, and the indelible impression they have left upon us. From age to age the saga of religion has been told best through the medium of art and architecture. Therefore, it stands to reason that through these two it will be best communicated to future generations.

Updated: Aug 11, 2022

Photo: Wikipedia

During the initial phases of the liturgical renewal of the 1960s and 70s, experts, pastors, liturgists, and even bishops alluded to dozens of hitherto unknown “liturgical principles” to justify their subjective opinions. The origin of the majority of these “principles” frequently was very obscure, and often vague. I remember “experts” telling us parish priests in meetings, in lectures, and in the ubiquitous “workshops” that too much decoration and too much color in a church was a distraction to the congregation, later called the assembly, drawing the people’s attention from the celebration of the Liturgy. Part of the task of the renovation of a church for the reformed liturgy therefore would require eliminating polychrome statues, paintings, and even simple floral decorations from floors, walls, arches, and ceilings. The experts further told us that this would “restore” our American Gothic or Romanesque revival structures to a pristine state similar to the original churches of Europe that served as their models. The elimination of color and decoration, begun by the Protestant reformers and continued by the French and other revolutionaries, would allow the “bones” of the building to show forth in their majesty. The result regularly was a bland and dull interior, sometimes in 50 shades of beige. There were many “authorities” who rejoiced in this result. Some celebrated that they had “restored” our churches to the original monochromatic style of the past. But they were wrong! There was no such thing! Those churches of the 9 th , 10 th , and later centuries were what I would call “riots of color.” Art historians have noted the remnants of the paint that covered every figure: human, animal, floral, and gargoyle. Clever “sound and light” shows have demonstrated the magnificent polychromatic effects so long gone.


But some folks continued to maintain that such a restoration today would lead to distraction of the faithful from the liturgy. I disagree. The beauty of bright and shining colors forms a splendid background to the liturgy, not a distraction. Color can inspire contemplation on the wildly colorful splendor of creation, far removed from the monochromatic, except in the Arctic and Antarctic. Skilled use of lighting can highlight this beauty as well.

Regarding creating a bright and multicolored church, we should apply the words of Saint John Paul II as he began his pontificate: “Do not be afraid!” For proof of our point, we can simply refer to and contemplate the beauty of the recent restoration of a chapel in the great pure Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame of Paris, or even the current refurbishment of the magnificent Gothic Revival Houses of Parliament in London.

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