Vatican speaks out against modern Church art and architecture

Cardinal Ravasi, the President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, is speaking out against modernist architects building ugly Churches. He discusses reestablishing a dialogue with artists/architects, but says the Church will keep a closer eye on the art being commissioned, since modern architects pushed the envelope of Sacred Architecture too far.

Thank goodness

Here’s the thing - if the Cardinal is saying modern Churches look like Museums - well, ancient Churches look like pagan temples, don’t they? Because architects of that time wanted to create in a vernacular that was relevant to them. No architect of any talent living today is going to want to make a recreation of a Baroque or Gothic Cathedral, because there are already loads of them, and the highest things that can be done in that style have already been done. Think about it this way - how many people are currently writing plays using the dialect of Shakespeare? Nobody, or at least nobody worthy of reading - why would you bother with a contemporary knockoff when you can have the real thing?

I’m sure that there are some Churches that go to far, but I think there are some “modernist” (though not in the theological sense) Churches that are very beautiful and not at all Protestant in mentality, like the Cathedral of Brasilia by Oscar Niemeyer,

From ironing board “altars” and factory churches, deliver us O Lord.

This is the fundamental problem, isn’t it?

It’s all about the architect. The architect wants “his” name to be exalted.

A church should be a prayer to God written by the people of God in stone. And while modern materials and engineering techniques may make features like “flying buttresses” less necessary than 700 years ago, there is not a thing wrong with the classic designs.

The barque of Peter motif is obvious enough, and appropriate I think, although the Church is not even named after St Peter. (Don’t know why it wasn’t.)
The interior is different though, I was always interested in visiting this church, but was stunned when I went inside and the first thing I immediately noticed was the inverted cross above the altar, sans Christ, but with a dove presumably representing the Holy Spirit? I know, you could argue its the St Peter theme running through again, but in that case it should be St Peter on the cross. Don’t really know where the artist is going with this one. In any case, such a prominent feature above the altar, I really thought it should have been a genuine crucifix, like the tiny processional one in the picture. Maybe I’m being too harsh, but I just found the whole thing puzzling.

Just when I was wondering where the rest of the art was, I clocked it on the way out, it’s behind the congregation.

That first one was pretty amazing. Startling. Then I get to some inane question of perspective and where the crucifix is and the angel’s position. I’m pretty open minded about a lot to do with art and architecture. I had thought that from the title, they might have been speaking of like during the time of Gerald Ford as President with all his golfing, communications receptors shaped like golf balls, and church spires that looked like broken tees…as if the world were presenting God with a giant golf course…:slight_smile:

But this is one, that is very near and dear to my heart…they’ve gotten a lot of harsh attitudes thrown at them, which I don’t care for. Please look around on their FB website…they have several interesting photo albums…But the oddity? They are known for their ‘drive through’ stations of the cross. A big deal when I was little…still is. Miles of cars lined up for this pilgrimage, usually at Christmas…They are amazing…

Well, that wasn’t what I said at all - I meant that, any artist, and yes, a church is a work of art, wants to express their devotion in their own way rather than simply imitating others.

Nevertheless - there is no such thing as a classic design. What do you think Gothic cathedrals were when they first started building them?

To say that somehow just because architecture changes through history that modernist movements or styles are therefore necessarily good or okay does not follow.

I think that the word modernist is very problematic, since I know at least what sense you probably have for that word, and I do not think that the aesthetic style called modernism is inherently connected to theological modernism, though I know many people who have deep-seeded prejudices will be unable to see this any other way.

There is certainly a trend in contemporary architecture so be deliberately bizarre or even ugly, and that this is based on a philosophy that is incompatible with Christianity. But I don’t think this means that all cathedrals need to be slavish imitations of Gothic or Baroque cathedrals. And I do think there is a sense in which people do viscerally react against anything new or different from the past, and that the fact that aesthetic sensibilities change is relevant.

The Orthodox seem to be able to build beautiful new churches that look like they came out of the 19th century or earlier. No reason we can’t do the same.

This isn’t an unusual thing - for example, in Sant’andrea della Valle, St. Andrew’s crucifixion is the most prominently displayed element behind the altar.

I didn’t say classic design. I said classic designs.

As far as personal preference, I like Italian and French Renaissance better than Gothic (my favorite cathedral, by its architectural design is, by far, the Cathedral of Saint Paul…though i would have preferred it if they would have retained the characteristic patina on the dome when they restored it)

But I am very fond of Byzantine design, as well. And I think the Romanesque design is very practical for a parish church.

And, FYI, there are architectural styles known as “modern” and “post-modern”. I don’t think that they translate well into Catholic churches.

There’s also a “Neo Byzantine”, or “Byzantine Revival” that I’m very fond of. The Cathedral Basillica in St. Louis is in this style, and I might be biased, but I think is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever been in.

I think that postmodern, in the context of architecture, actually means something different than it does in other artistic mediums - in that it is actually “post” modern in the sense of being a return to pre-Modern styles.

I agree that there are many cases where the minimalism or obsession asymmetry of Modern architecture do not translate well into Catholic churches, but I think this is not always the case, as from the example of the Cathedral of Brasilia I posted, which I think really does evoke a uniquely Catholic perspective through the vibrant use of color and the pillars that stretch up to the sky like hands raised toward God. It reminds me particularly of Christ’s Baptism, with the sky opening up and the Holy Spirit descending like a dove.

Yes, but the Church in your post is St Andrew’s or Sant’andrea della Valle. The picture is clearly that of St Andrew’s crucifixion with the traditional X shaped cross. Though this or similar art works of saints with crosses, or holding crucifixes etc, cannot replace an altar crucifix itself.
In my post the Church in question is All Saints, not St Peters. While a man crucified upside down would predictably, though incorrectly, be interpreted as ‘satanic’ by many it could easily be shown to be St Peter, and not Christ on a crucifix. The salient point though, is the dove on the cross. I am not aware of a tradition that said the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, or even a simple dove for that matter was crucified for their witness to Christ. I’m just not sure what point the artist, presumably this was commissioned, was trying to make in the most prominent and visible work of art in this church? It just puzzles me. It’s almost as if they have gone out of their way to remove Christ from the cross, why it has to be inverted I don’t know, and all of this above the Altar, where Christ’s sacrifice is re-presented daily, and traditionally a crucifix is prominent. The use of the processional cross seems almost an afterthought, a quick fix solution to the fact that a crucifix is supposed to be in close proximity to the altar for mass.

I’d like to offer the Notre Dame des Malades of Vichy, France, an add-on to the Church of St. Blaise in 1931, as an example of a really beautiful Church that combines older styles with more modern ones, in this case, art deco. I have been there personally and I was really struck by how the old and the new were blended seamlessly and beautifully together. The art actually struck me as more like the more symbolic art of the middle ages than the more photo-realistic Rennaisance art we associate with some of the more famous Cathedrals.

Ewwwwww. That is hideous, and more of an impediment to worship instead of assisting in worship.

Okay, I think I have an idea - the whole thing is probably supposed to represent the Trinity, with the circle thing representing God the Father (I think that might be an eye, which is one of the symbols of God the Father).

As to the person who said “Ewwwww” - I think that is, in the first place, rather rude, to saw of any house of God that is approved by the Church as a house of worship. Likewise, I am sure there were many people in the middle ages who looked on the gargoyles of Gothic Cathedrals with similar distaste, but that doesn’t mean Gothic architecture was inherently disgusting.

For those who would say ewwwwww, I would refer them to the edifices built in Los Angeles and Oakland, particularly LA.

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