Wednesday, August 22, 2012

PREACH IT BROTHER! HOW CHURCH ARCHITECTURE WENT WRONG




My comments first: I have always been fascinated with the Crystal Cathedral and got to see it this past January. I'm thrilled that it will undergo the RCIA process and be baptized Catholic once necessary liturgical renovations are made.

But Duncan G. Stroik is a professor of architecture at the University of Notre Dame where he helped implement a new curriculum in classical architecture in 1990. He played a central role in the revival of interest in sacred architecture that led to the formation of the Society for Catholic Liturgy and the journal Sacred Architecture, of which he is editor. Stroik received his architectural education from the University of Virginia and Yale University.

He says below the following: "One of the major criticisms of Catholic architecture during the past fifty years is that it has incorrectly adopted many of the forms of low-church Protestantism: the theater form, a fear of sacred images, asymmetrical layouts, vacuous sanctuaries, minimalist liturgical elements, prominently placed Jacuzzis for baptism, and the banishment of the Blessed Sacrament to the baptistry. The altar area becomes a stage with a focus on entertainment alongside praise bands that perform upbeat music. In response, liturgists have argued that all of these things are simply the outgrowth if not the requirement of Vatican II. Are they finally admitting their agenda by purchasing a ready for TV megachurch complete with a jumbotron and three huge balconies for the 'spectators'?"

I don't think I could have said it better myself, great minds think alike.

Read his article:



Should the Bishop Have Bought the Crystal Cathedral?

by Duncan G. Stroik
August 22, 2012
Crisis Magazine


Three miles from Disneyland there is another famous theme park, which proclaims itself as “America’s Television Church.” The Crystal Cathedral, perhaps the first mega-church in the United States, is about to undergo conversion classes so that it can finally get the cathedra and bishop it has always wanted. The Diocese of Orange, California, has purchased the thirty-one-acre property and its four buildings for $53 million, a steal even in this real estate market. Realizing that recent cathedrals built from scratch have cost upwards of $200 and $250 million on the West Coast, retrofitting sounds like a financially savvy move. However, turning this prismatic beacon of televangelism into a house of God may be easier said than done.

Does this purchase signal a new role for Catholic charity: to buy up properties of bankrupt Protestant ministries? If so, there may be some good opportunities in the future. How does the bishop encourage full, active, and conscious participation in the liturgy by purchasing one of the buildings most associated with religion as theater? Begun as an open-air service at a drive-in theater, the church was designed around Rev. Schuller’s flamboyant preaching. Associated with glitz and money, it was the site of fancy and expensive holiday celebrations including trapeze artists, live animals for Christmas, and a lavish $13 million production called Creation.

Said to be the first all-glass structure built for religious purposes, it is associated with the feel-good theology of the 1980s. How to convert a building like this and at the same time disassociate it from its founder and his theology? Crystal Cathedral Ministries was a religion about self-promotion, and, appropriately, its main buildings were designed in disparate modernist styles by three well-known architecture firms: Richard Neutra, Philip Johnson and John Burgee, and Richard Meier. Each building is a personal expression of the architect, so that together they create a campus without much to unify them. Perhaps what may be of more concern to its future owner, the Neutra tower (1968) does not meet earthquake codes and the Crystal Cathedral (1980) and the Welcoming Center (2003) are high maintenance glass and metal buildings. This could be an expensive investment.

Can the Crystal Cathedral be converted to a Catholic Cathedral? We shall see. After all, the much noted cathedrals of Oakland, Los Angeles, and San Francisco are all expressionistic modernist sculptures. The diocese has said that they will not change the exterior of the church and will not compromise the architectural integrity of the 2700-seat interior. Yet, without a radical transformation the building will always come across as a technological mega-church rather than as a sacred place. It needs to be totally gutted and reconceived. And even if the interior can be functionally retrofitted for Catholic liturgy, many believe that its identity will always be that of the Crystal Cathedral.

One of the major criticisms of Catholic architecture during the past fifty years is that it has incorrectly adopted many of the forms of low-church Protestantism: the theater form, a fear of sacred images, asymmetrical layouts, vacuous sanctuaries, minimalist liturgical elements, prominently placed Jacuzzis for baptism, and the banishment of the Blessed Sacrament to the baptistry. The altar area becomes a stage with a focus on entertainment alongside praise bands that perform upbeat music. In response, liturgists have argued that all of these things are simply the outgrowth if not the requirement of Vatican II. Are they finally admitting their agenda by purchasing a ready for TV megachurch complete with a jumbotron and three huge balconies for the “spectators”?

The timing of this is wrong. A whole new generation of priests, laity, and theologians has grown up with this stuff and find these Protestant innovations dated and lacking in substance. They desire an architecture that grows out of the Church’s rich tradition and that will enable them in worship. Asked what cathedrals should look like in the twenty-first century, they point to Saint Patrick’s in New York, Saint Peter’s in Rome, Notre Dame in Paris, and other obvious suspects. These are buildings constructed hundreds of years ago, yet continue to speak to believers and unbelievers alike today. A timeless architecture built for the ages, a cathedral should be a durable building constructed out of masonry, transcendent in height, and directional in length. Unfortunately for the new generation and their children, the Orange diocese has chosen the opposite direction and will foist on them a building that is of its time and not particularly suited to Catholic worship and devotion. Twenty years from now, it will not matter that Orange got a really good deal whereas another California diocese quadrupled its budget. People will simply ask if it is a beautiful cathedral, worthy of the Creator.

This editorial first appeared in issue 21 (Spring 2012) of Sacred Architecture and is reprinted with permission.



8 comments:

Anonymous 2 said...

I bet they use a lot of Windex.

Seriously, on the subject of Church architecture, let me offer this for your contemplation and comment.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fS9QVf--P6A

This is one of my favorite churches ever. Such elegance and simplicity! To me, St. Josephs in Macon has a gorgeous beauty but this church is just as beautiful in its own way because it has a stark beauty that reflects the monastic ideal. (I am not too keen on the musical accompaniment in the second half of the video tour but that may just be a matter of personal taste.)

rcg said...

The guy is right: the Crystal Cathedral is a mistake. But it is in the Mecca of tacky, LA.

William Meyer said...

I think Stroik's analysis is spot on, not only in terms of the structure itself, but the timing.

Pater Ignotus said...

Anon 2 - When my brother in law was Dom Anselm Atkins, OCSO, and a member of the community at Conyers, he and Fr. Methodius Telnak made all the stained glass windows for the new monastery. It is a hauntingly beautiful place indeed.

Anonymous 2 said...

Pater, I love the stained glass there -- whether it is abstract art or something else. =)

Marc said...

Pater & Anon2 - I can agree with both of you on this one: Holy Spirit Monastery is hauntingly beautiful. I likewise love the stained glass there. It casts a very beautiful blue ambiance on the entire chapel.

As I said previously, I find the stained glass at Pater's Church to be quite nice also (regardless of whether it is abstract or not).

Pater, when was your brother in law there at Conyers? I have gone there on retreat several times during the last five years... I haven't been since they've added the more modern buildings and what not.

Anselm's bro-in-law said...

Anselm was a trappist for 17 years, beginning as a monk at Gethsemani in Kentucky. He left the monastery around 1970, I think. He and my sister were married in 1972.

I suspect he arrived at Conyers about the time the Abbey chapel was being built.

Anonymous said...

I see. So our paths certainly would not have crossed considering I was negative 13 when he left the Monastery!

Marc