11 June 2011

Miscellaneous Thoughts on Church Architecture

I was browsing around looking at lists of colleges here in North Carolina today, and I came across before and after pictures of the Abbey Basilica of Mary Help of Christians (Belmont Abbey College was founded by the same Benedictine monastery).

Why do we allow this butchery of historic buildings? This church building was the first cathedral in North Carolina, before the Diocese of Raleigh was created, and remained a cathedral until the Diocese of Charlotte took over its territory. This is a really significant building, not just any old parish church. Who decided that it was ok to do this to its interior? As if I needed to see more examples of ecclesiastical interior design heavily influenced by Original Series Star Trek sets, besides my current parish, and the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes in Spokane, and a few others. I've posted pictures of Lourdes Cathedral before, and won't do it again. The carpet makes me feel ill. Here's the best I could find of my current digs:

At least in defense of my current parish, the building was built in the '50s and was ugly already, so the '70s renovation didn't ruin much. The Spokane Cathedral is of an age with the Abbey, late 19th-century, and used to be beautiful inside. The exterior has the superficial similarities of being red brick buildings with two towers.

The Abbey Basilica's towers are of different sizes, though.

This may be one of the rare instances of the Jesuits doing something better than the Benedictines. Take the case of St. Aloysius, the church that serves the Jesuits and students of Gonzaga University; it's a parish church of the diocese of Spokane, but always staffed by Jesuits and is in the middle of campus. The interior was renovated, and there are elements of the renovation that could be better (I wish they'd kept the altar rail, for instance), but they certainly didn't ruin the church. It wouldn't be too hard to put St. Al's back the way it was.


Anonymous said...

Jane probably didn't walk on the loud floors of the church, or see the paint chips falling from the ceiling, or smell the inside of the church, or sit in the old pews, or see the hideous colors. Of course, everything looks better in black and white. As for her question about who decided it would be ok to make the changes, I would assume that the monks (the ones who own and use it) made the changes. Its really their taste that matters. Then again, the fact that she thinks it's "rare" that Jesuits do something better than Benedictines calls this whole commentary into question.

Anonymous said...

To add to that, I would point out that the church was literally falling apart inside. The floor had fallen in in places and the walls were coming down. Also, because of the liturgical guidelines set forth by the Church, a renovation of the alter was going to have to be made anyway. So, the monks made a prudent and thrifty decision to gut it completely and rebuild a simpler church. To restore the old interior would have cost a lot more money; the money saved allowed them to continue the liberal arts college that exists today.