onsdag 4 augusti 2010

A matter of taste?


Primiz blessing, originally uploaded by [f as in...].

In a previous blog I was taken to task for expressing my dislike of the Catholic cathedral in Stockholm. My critic suggested that it was just a matter of taste.

The cathedral consists of a late nineteenth century red brick building in the Gothic revival style, with an extension constructed in 1983. The latter, which stands in the space formerly occupied by the original sanctuary, is a rectangular space, with facing brickwork inside, and a flat ceiling of gilded hexagons. It is a typical building of its time, which is part of the problem: it now looks thoroughly dated. Expressing the ideals of the liturgical reforms following the Second Vatican Council, it now just seems as much of its time as a pop music hit from the same period. It is barely adequate in the light of the reappraisal of the Council that has been going on for the past decade, and in particular since the election of the present Pope.

But is church architecture just a matter of taste? A church is the setting for the divine liturgy, and its purpose is to point to that which lies beyond the material world. It is unfortunately the case that architects schooled in what is still referred to as the "Modern Movement", though it is now more than fifty years since it reached its zenith, are particularly poorly equipped to the challenge of designing buildings with a religious function, because the Modern Movement was founded on the rationalist ideal.

Worse still, there is the whole question of architecture as symbol. The built environment functions as a symbol system, analogous to a language. Certain combinations of sound have no absolute meaning but by convention, within a language, they mean one thing and not another. These meanings are not a matter of individual opinion. So it is with buildings. Here we are dealing with a symbol system that has evolved over two millenia. A structure that looks as if it could be a suburban railway station is unlikely to function well as a church.

5 kommentarer:

Physiocrat sa...

I received a comment which I unfortunately deleted by mistake.

If the poster would kindly send it again I shall publish. Apologies.

Physiocrat sa...

From Acreator
The architecture of the Cathedral in Stockholm is a compromise due to bishop Brandenburg. He did not support a two churches solution. Originally the plan was to construct a completly new dome, a round church with a centrally placed high altar, similar to the Temple in Jerusalem, behind the old one, so that the old and new churches could be used independently.

The ceiling is a construction to create the best possible accoustic environment for choir song and organ.

The sained windows with saints are from 19th century Malmoe church and there have been plans to continue with stained windows all over.

I don´t think you could judge an architectural solution that spontaneously, without knowing the history behind. The Cathedral is a compromise between old and new, it has many advantages, many pieces of good art, and there are a number of chapels also around that not would have been the case if f.e. S. Jacob´s church in the city would have been chosen. The TLM was celebrated here already under the "Stickler indult" in 1984.

Physiocrat sa...

I judge the cathedral as I find it and do not ever find that attending mass there is an uplifting experience. In stark contrast with Kristus Konungen in Göteborg, or even the modest little Catholic church in Halmstad. There may be good reasons for it having turned out the way it did but it does not change the situation.

The architectural idiom is determinedly that of a public secular building, a bus station, perhaps.

It is like going to a formal dinner with working clothes on.

At the present time it does not enhance the status of the Catholic church in the city, and to that extend it is an impediment to evangelisation, which is, I suggest, a serious shortcoming.

In comparison, the Oratorians took over a moribund but basically high quality Catholic church in Oxford and, with tasteful restoration and good traditional liturgy, have turned it into a thriving and growing parish in just a few years. Which is surely what Stockholm deserves, is it not? An opportunity is being cast away.

Acreator sa...

Gothenburg: So you really prefer jugend thesophical wallpaintings and the Tabenacle in a former side chapel? And Halmstad - was that church built for Catholic liturgy?

Indeed, Kristus Konung is an example how church destruction can be performed in a few years. You are not familiar with the stormy years in Gothenburg, when the interior was demolished?

In Stockholm the old part was carefully preserved and renovated just in time for the papal visit.. Nothing has been taken away, except the abside. And nothing has been added! Indeed the old part is an outstanding example of preservance and respect.

What you say about the modern part is not true. It serves as a vivid Catholic church center in Stockholm, visited by thousands of people every Sunday. There are things that could be updated - lighting can be done with spotlights etc - and of course there are many areas that could be decorated with paintings etc - these things are expensive and hard to find nowadays. The new stained windows in the modern part are temporary, they will not be there for ever.

But the solution is genious; the old part can be used both as a part of the whole AND as a separate part. There is a wall with a painting from the school of Rubens, separating the two parts, normally hidden for all, but it could be closed.

So it seems you don't know very much about the examples you talk about. "Opinions" are easy to drop, studies demand some more efforts. And good will can even demand some personal sacrifices.

When you say that "It is like going to a formal dinner with working clothes on", did it ever occure to you, that the problem could be more within yourself than in the architecture? You come to church to HAVE something - an experience - is that so? Ever thought about to come for OFFERING your self?

Physiocrat sa...

Acreator - thanks for explanatory points. Of course I have no idea of the background, I just comment on things as I find them today.

Some are up to the job, though less than perfect. In the case of others, there may be good reasons why they have turned out the way they are, but the good reasons explain but do not take away the shortcomings of the end product. And there is a difference between liturgies and liturgical settings that are less that ideal but adequately good, and ones that fall well below that standard. Anything does not go. "Offering up" can only go so far when the liturgy and its setting is concerned.

It is not for nothing that the ICEL English translation has been revised. It was eventually recognised that it was an over-free interpretation of the definitive text. People in the English-speaking world have been offering up the pain for thirty years, and in the meantime the church has shrunk down to half its former size. Of course it is not the entire explanation, but it has not helped.

The recent example of the Oxford Oratory suggests that a well-presented traditional liturgy in a high quality traditional architectural setting can help to draw people into the church, and that cannot be a bad thing. If they needed an excuse for a church that was an awkward or disturbing building, many of them might have come once and not returned.

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