The changes to church interiors after Vatican 2


I lived in Germany for a number of years recently and it was very noticeable how many older churches had been drastically cleared out of all traditional decoration and sacramentals such as the Stations of the Cross. Quite often the result rather than just making the interior simpler was in fact Brutalist in it’s starkness.

When discussing this with someone they claimed that it was in fact the German national church that interpreted Vatican 2 in this way. Therefore the German bishops were at the vanguard of removing all vestiges of popular piety from Catholic church interiors and encouraging new churches to be much less traditional in their design which consequently spread throughout the universal church.

Does anyone know if there is any evidence for this argument?

(While living in Germany despite meeting devout Catholics, on the whole the vast majority of people attending mass were over 60 and there was no meaningful evangelism happening.)


These are photos of the inside of a couple of German Catholic churches .

They appear to be intact .


I think a lot of Germany’s faith issues probably stem from WWII and Nazi Germany. A whole “lost” generation was likely created, which got passed on to those children, etc. As for no Stations of the Cross, hmm, weird.

The German Churches and the Nazi State


Are you sure that all those churches you visited were still Catholic Church buildings and not former Catholic but taken over by the Lutheran/Evangelical church?

During the Second World War a lot of buildings including churches were bombed. When they were rebuilt (some weren’t) the decorations like paintings and statues would be minimal compared to an ancient church building as prioritise is usually building, then interior with altar over a statue. There are likely laws that buildings with cultural important heritage are to be rebuilt, including materials used and construction, as they were before at least on the outside. The inside might be different in some cases like added toilets etc.


Two out of how many? :rofl:


Yes they were definitely Catholic. I lived there for six years. I know the difference between Protestant (called Evangelical in Germany) and Catholic churches including Lutheran.

Of course not all Catholic churches had had the same treatment. The ornate churches shown were very likely in the South, especially Bavaria where the church was and is more orthodox in belief (Pope Benedict is from Bavaria). It wasn’t every church but was MANY where we were in Central Germany.

When we first went to our local Catholic church I became very upset with my husband as I was sure, like the poster up thread that it was a Lutheran or other Protestant church because it was so devoid of Catholic design. I thought he must have been m it shaken to take us there. My husband insisted the locals said it was the Catholic church and they turned out to be right. The tabernacle was behind the alter with a light but it was still so very, very stark and bare.


Rob2 I am afraid showing the interior of those two churches is like showing the interior of the National Cathedral in D.C. and assuming it represents all American churches. I am afraid in this case the exception proves the rule.


It was not unique to Germany. A lot of this was done elsewhere. Here in England there are lots of examples. I think this happened because not of Vatican II only but more wholesale changes in society. There was a general trend of out with the old. I think a lot of Catholics got caught up in this spirit in the latter half of the 60s and into the 70s and believed Vatican II had mandated many of the changes.


Ive seen some of the pictures of the churches in germany most of them are so beautiful on the outside and super mininalist on the inside it just isnt right and they sure are ugly.


But America is a little different for the most part other than the craziness of the 70s and 80s most churches even some in that era where being built with some level of beauty dont get me wrong there are some exceptions but for the most part other than that monstrosity in Los Angeles American churches were spared the fate of many other churches.


Whoa, those are pretty.


I heard a description (on “The Journey Home” on ewtn, no less) where the guest described the post-vatican II stuff as similar to when all the Catholic stuff was “renovated” during the English Reformation (after Henry VIII). Heartbreaking either way.


The movement toward less ornate interior design began before Vatican II, at least in my experience. There are several churches in my area that were built in the late 1940s and 1950s that had little interior ornamentation when they were built. These are cruciform-shaped churches that were built for what we now call the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. And they were not poor parishes either, so the movement toward less ornamentation could not be tied to finances.

Absolutely there were very ornate churches where the interior ornamentation was removed following Vatican II. But the Council itself did not begin the trend toward less ornamentation. I believe it is a reflection or architecture in general during the postwar period. Take a look at public buildings, office buildings, even residences. All of them moved away from ornate features. I doubt that Vatican II - or even a misapplication of what the Council called for - had much influence on secular building styles.


Thank you everyone for your replies. I am not against a simple and modest design of Catholic Churches and have been to mass at several beautiful and very simple churches around the world. Also sometimes the extremely ornate baroque style in some European churches can have the affect of being somewhat triumphant and lacking in modesty IMHO as a convert from aethism (especially when they are now empty).A harmony and balance can be found in all things.

What I am describing is probably a reflection of the lack of fervor within the church (especially in the leadership) in Germany where a lack of catechisis also means parish members no longer understand what is missing. It is a spiritual starkness. I also agree it does reflect the architectural fashions of the 20th century, especially post-war. I am also aware it happened in many countries, especially in Northern Europe and the USA. I was just wondering if there is evidence that German theologians were at the vanguard of this change as someone I met claimed.

The German church is extremely wealthy due to automatic taxes (effectively a tithe) that all Catholics pay. So Bishops have the money to make sweeping changes.

Sadly the church is in major and massive decline there. The church in America is absolutely thriving in comparison. As I said, there is hardly anyone under 60 in the churches (at least in Rhineland-Pfalz where we were). Our young family with children was highly unusual. Any of the very few young children were brought by their grandparents rather than their parents if they were there at all. When this older generation (baby boomers) dies out the church will be in an even worse crisis than it is currently.

I think catechisis, or lack of it had much more of an impact than WW 2, the Baby Boomers in Germany were obviously born after the war and they seem to be the last well catechized generation who still attend mass in significant numbers.

When we arrived in Germany from the USA and I asked a priest about what was available for my children to help with their catechisis, he actually laughed at me and became extremely annoyed. He told me the schools took care of that! These are secular, public schools. I wanted to say “and how is that working for you?” because obviously none of them were coming to church or their parents. I also met some very holy priests and parishioners but they are a tiny percentage of a large baptised population that do not practice.


Yes, and I think there is an artistic difference between churches that were designed to be simple, and ones that had their elaborate interiors that were made simple at a later date. That’s one of the reasons that the 1970s- era renovations bother me do much, is because it seems like the renovators had no sense of the historical beauty of the churches, or just the basic idea that one shouldn’t take a building that was designed with in artistic integrity, then just trash part of the interior. I never see a building where they trashed, for instance, the stained glass windows, but of course it was so common to “renovate” the sanctuary and particularly the altar.


The post-Vatican II decimation of church interiors wasn’t unique to Germany. It was also done in USA and I understand there it was also spurred by bishops and individual pastors.

In some cases in USA, the churches were made more plain because their original ornate decor was hard to maintain, such as frescos on the walls that got water damage over time. I’ve seen a couple of very nice conversions of such a church into a very lovely white plain space. Some of the conversions weren’t so nice though.

In the past 10 years, some of the churches that were made plain or otherwise changed are starting to change back. The pastor of my home parish has put some more statues into the church, which was very bare before. The pastor of the parish a couple miles away has announced that he is going to move the tabernacle back to the center of the sanctuary because he finds it awkward to have it off to the side and thinks it should be central.

Even some of the churches that were built in a very plain modernist way have started to incorporate more traditional elements. The parish where I got married was very modernist looking when we were married there. It has since been changed to incorporate more statues, some imitation “stained glass windows” on what was previously clear windows, and a more ornate-looking sanctuary. It is pretty, but I have to say I liked it better before, because grafting traditional elements onto a modern designed church looks as weird as stripping out all the traditional elements from a traditional church.


That mostly happened quite some time after Henry VIII. His son Edward VI was forced by some to take the Church in England in a Protestant direction. Mary I restored Roman Catholicism in full. Elizabeth I was mainly interested in being in charge. It was really after Charles I was deposed and the Puritans became dominant in English church life that the main desecration of church interiors occurred.

I am not defending the destruction of our churches. Grave damage was done to them and I often wish time machines existed and I could visit the churches and shrines we had prior to the Reformation. However, I think it important we maintain a true historical record and it was the puritans who really desecrated the churches.


I agree Tis Bearself. Clashing architectural styles rarely works and I am not anti modern architecture that is sympathetic and appropriate to the community it serves. I also was familiar with a modest modern church that was very beautiful it its simplicity. Behind the altar were windows that looked out onto a cloister and fields which was very beautiful. Then traditional etching was done on the windows after 20+ years that not only clashed in style but then obscured the view which the was incorporated into the orginal design which was very sad.

No I am speaking to the unsympathetic remodeling or stripping of churches that leaves them feeling bare and quite frankly, sad.


I like both ancient and modern if they are created aesthetically .

I have yet to enter a church where the interior was made inferior because of poor modern tastes .

I like the modern cathedral in Liverpool . It was designed before the Second Council of the Vatican , so no one can lay the blame there .


I like the older Westminster Cathedral with it’s Byzantine Style .


My favourite is the Jesuit church of St Wilfrid in Preston , built in 1793 and modified over the years .


I think they ought to reflect the local culture.

When I was last in Japan, I visited two Catholic Churches. They had similar interiors with no pews and a lot of decoration that fit with traditional Japanese culture.

But on the outsides, one looked like a typical Japanese shrine, the other looked like it was airlifted out of France or Spain. Flying buttresses and so on. It looked odd, frankly, in comparison to the interior.

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