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Church Architecture.

1. That specific area of architecture which relates to the construction of houses of worship, concerns the housing of specific liturgies, and acts, as does religious art, as individual and communal expression of faith life. This article deals specifically with architecture executed for the Christian faith, though Hebraic, pagan, and secular influences on Christian architecture could not be ignored in a more elaborate dissertation.

2. From apostolic times to the end of the 15th c. the hist. of architecture was the hist. of ch. bldg. The decline of the ch. at the time of the It. Renaissance (15th–16th c.) also saw a gen. decline in architecture that is only now beginning to abate.

3. The decision of Constantine* I to make Christianity the state religion had momentous effect on Christian art and architecture. Congregations assembled openly rather than in homes of mems. Increase in membership was met with new and impressive architectural settings. Constantine brought much power and wealth to bear. Large, imperially sponsored chs. were soon built in Rome, Constantinople, and throughout the empire. Their basic form was basilican, a combination house, temple, and assembly hall. But this new form was more than a derivation. It had qualities of original creation. Many authorities consider the basilica the most important single architectural form. It was gen. oriented on a longitudinal axis running from W to E. Before entering the ch. proper, the atrium, a colonnaded court, had to be traversed. The far side of the atrium formed the narthex.* Then came the nave* with its large center aisle and 4 side aisles, 2 on either side. At the E end of the nave was the great (triumphal) arch that framed the altar and the vaulted apse beyond. The altar stood in a separate compartment that was at right angles to the nave and aisles and was called the bema. See also Orientation of Churches; Transept.

4. An important aspect of early Christian architecture was the marked contrast bet. exterior and interior. The exterior was left unadorned, merely a shell whose shape reflected the space enclosed. This ascetic treatment of the exterior gave way very often to utmost richness on the interior.

5. One other type of structure entered the tradition of Christian architecture in the time of Constantine I, namely the round, or polygonal, bldg. crowned with a dome. This type of bldg., developed by the Romans (e.g., the Pantheon), was by the 4th c. given Christian meaning in baptisteries and funerary chapels.

6. Though there is no clear-cut division bet. early Christian and Byzantine art, we find the latter evidencing a more E or oriental influence and style. This shift to the E was completed during the reign of Justinian* I, an art patron equal to Constantine* I. Churches built during his reign exist with much of their original splendor today. The most beautiful examples of chs. built in this First Golden Age survive in Ravenna, It., not in Constantinople, where much was destroyed by iconoclasts. In many respects the most interesting ch. in Ravenna is S. Vitale, completed 547. Of octagonal plan with a domed central core, only the merest remnants of the longitudinal axis of the early Christian basilica remain. From the time of Justinian I, domed central-plan chs. were to dominate the world of Orthodox Christianity, while the basilica plan dominated the architecture of the medieval W. The most important ch. from this period existing in Constantinople is Hagia Sophia (St. Sophia; Holy Wisdom), one of the outstanding creative triumphs of all time; in Byzantine architecture it is unmatched in monumental ambitions and engineering genius. See also Schism, 6. Other important structures include St. Mark's, Venice, a fine example from the Second Golden Age, lavishly decorated and beautifully situated, and the cathedral of St. Basil, Moscow, with its fairyland domes.

7. The Middle Ages marked the shift of the center of Eur. civilization from the Medit. to the N boundaries of the Roman world. Many factors account for this shift, e.g., the split bet. the RC and Orthodox faiths and the impact of invasions by Germanic tribes. These factors also contributed to artistic and architectural changes in Eur. The Carolingjan age under Charlemagne* produced fine chs., particularly the Palace Chapel at Aachen and Abbey ch. of Saint-Riquier, Fr. But 1000 marks an important point in the development of ch. architecture. Possibly expectation of the millennium led to few chs. built 600–1000. Certainly the Crusades* and simultaneous growth of religious enthusiasm created desire for new chs. New wealth and the new middle class of craftsmen and merchants helped recapture the power and imaginative bldg. of ancient Rome; hence the name Romanesque. Chs. not only became more numerous but also were gen. larger, more richly decorated, and looked more “Roman” since their naves used vaults and, unlike any previous ch. styles, used architectural ornamentation and sculpture on exteriors. Romanesque chs. of importance are scattered throughout what was at that time the RC world: from N Sp. to Ger., from Cen. It. to N Eng. The finest, most inventive, and greatest variety are in Fr. Of these a few bear special mention: St. Sernin, Toulouse, illustrates a high degree of regularity in its plan; Notre-Damela-Grande, Poitiers, is particularly noteworthy for its elaborately bordered arcades; St. Etienne (Abbayeaux-Hommes), Caen, is important because of systematic use of the ribbed groin vault above the nave. The cathedral at Durham, Eng., chiefly in Norman Romanesque, is noted for the proportionate disposition of its masses. The design of the imperial cathedral at Speyer helps convey a feeling of sheer enormity. The cathedral at Pisa is unique for the delicacy and color of its exterior. All these chs. displayed extraordinary inventiveness by architectengineer and artist. Use of buttresses, ribbed groined vaults, and sculpture, plus striving for height and light, mark this 200-yr. period as one of the most inventive times, architecturally speaking, since ancient Greece.

8. It would be wrong to describe Gothic as a synthesis of Romanesque traits. Such an idea would not explain the new spirit of Gothic, the emphasis on strict geometric planning, and the search for delicacy and luminosity. There was a kind of quest for sacred mathematic. Harmony (the perfect relationship among parts in terms of mathematical proportions and ratios) was the source of beauty, symbolizing the laws according to which, in Gothic thought, divine reason constructed the universe. The search for height and light reached its crest, and light streaming through stained glass became symbolic of mystic revelation of the Spirit of God.

9. The engineering “experiments” of the Romanesque era were continued and refined. Architectural details were more rationally planned and executed. Rather than using a “horseshoe” or rounded arch with its restrictions, Gothic architects used the pointed arch, which could be more loftily extended. Vaulting became more flexible; areas of any shape could be covered. Buttressing was now more fully understood, and the resultant delicacy achieved on exteriors created a more successful aesthetic solution than that found in Romanesque structures. Use of sculpture as architectural detail, begun by Romanesque architects, was carried to a precise and refined role on Gothic chs. Particularly facades used niches and piers onto and into which sculpture was placed, making the entire structure a kind of carving.

10. The most significant Gothic cathedrals are in Ile-de-France. Cathedrals at Paris, Chartres, Reims, Rouen, and Amiens compete as national monuments. Such concentrated expenditure of effort and money has seldom been seen. It was an expression of the combined religious and patriotic fervor of the Gothic age that reached its peak by the middle of the 13th c. Then work slowed, projects became less ambitious, and architectural concerns deteriorated to concentration on decoration rather than structure. See also Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris, France.

11. Outside Fr. the Gothic style received wide acceptance. Eng. proved very receptive to it; excellent examples are found at Salisbury, at Gloucester, and in Henry VII's Chapel, Westminster Abbey, London. From ca. 1250 Gothic had strong impact in Ger. The cathedral at Cologne was begun 1248 but not completed till modern times. The ch. of St. Sebald, Nürnberg, is an excellent example of Ger. Gothic. But It. had great difficulty with Gothic. The closer one gets to Rome, the less good Gothic is found. Probably the most truly Gothic ch. in It. is the Milan cathedral. Though ambitious, the building lacks cohesion and has come to be one of the world's architectural jokes.

12. The It. Renaissance cannot be said to have contributed any great concepts to the development of church architecture. Humanism overtook the ch., and its architecture shows it. St. Peter's, Rome, is spectacular; that is why it was built. No uniform spiritual motivations are evidenced. The importance of bldg. seemed to be to display theories that had been expounded 1,500 yrs. earlier.

13. It is not right to reject out of hand all chs. built from the Renaissance to the present. St. Paul's, London, was rebuilt in Eng. Renaissance style according to designs of C. Wren* after the Great Fire of 1666. Even the rococo style produced some amazing chs. The Ch. of Our Lady, Zwiefalten, S. Ger., is an amazing blend of painting, sculpture, and architecture; but one must ask if it is a ch. or simply the reply of the Counter* Reformation.

14. It is a rare event when a ch. is built that shows true architectural inventiveness as well as understanding of the building's function. New technical advances and materials have resulted in new approaches and solutions. Often results have shown lack of sincerity either in the client or architect, or both. Successful examples show proper and vital approach to the liturgical function of the place and not simply architectural ingeniousness. Eur. has provided the most successful chs., designed by such architects as Auguste Perret and Le Corbusier of Fr., and Dominikus Böhm, Rudolf Schwarz, and Otto Bartning of Ger. These showed great architectural ability, responsibility to the time in which they worked, and knowledge of liturgies involved.

15. Outstanding US ch. architects of the past and present include Ralph Adams Cram, Eero Saarinen, Pietro Belluschi, Edward A. Sovik, Charles Stade, Gyo Obata, and Edward Dart; these, and a few others, have shown rare ability to design a ch. from the inside out. Such men as Adalbert R. Kretzmann and Edward S. Frey have done much to keep theol. concerns foremost in ch. bldg. The Am. Soc. for Ch. Architecture and the Ch. Architectural Guild of Am. provide resources for those interested in knowing more about ch. architecture. No one form will answer the problem of ch. design. Various forms arise at the intersection of God's action toward man and man's response to God in community with his fellowmen. Only God, in His rightful place in the lives of people, can make a bldg. a ch. RRCj

See also Art, Ecclesiastical and Religious; Building Program, Parish; Theology.

A. Christ-Janer and M. M. Foley, Modern Church Architecture (New York, 1962); K. M. McClinton, The Changing Church (New York, 1957); J. Pichard, Modern Church Architecture, tr. E. Callmann (New York, 1960); J. I. Sewall, A History of Western Art (New York, 1953).

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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Original Editions ©Copyright 1954, 1975, 2000
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Content Reproduced with Permission

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