Page 4, 11th November 1988

11th November 1988
Page 4
Page 4, 11th November 1988 — LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

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Locations: London


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Portacabins or modern glory?

YOUR article "Charles and the church architects" (November 4) raises a few questions which need to be considered.

As Prince Charles found with modern buildings the ordinary people are not consulted as to their acceptability, so with new churches the congregations have little restraining power on the whims of bishops and priests. The people raise the money but the priest decides how it should be spent. In some cases rather than a new church being restricted in its ornament because of cost, a very expensive re-ordering is pushed through against the people's wishes, with such high costs as to suggest a wasteful stewardship of parish funds.

It could be said that church architecture is a thing of the past, and what we have today are simply enhanced portacabins besides which the old recusant practice of saying Mass in barns, taverns and drawing rooms becomes an attractive prospect.

It is not that the Victorian churches are so much lacking in certain special features but that congregations have grown. How much wiser it is to build an extension beside the old church as at Marlow rather than vandalise a beautiful Victorian feature. Alienation today is more likely to come through arrogant and unsympathetic design or re-ordering than the socalled feeling of alienation of the congregation from the altar.

As one who is involved in repairing and conserving a much loved Victorian church I can say that for the people it is a part of their lives. For the diocese it is a potential liability. Bishops and priests need to learn greater respect for their architectural heritage. They are at times unworthy custodians as witnessed by the demolition or partial destruction of fine churches.

Canon 1216 of the New Code of Canon Law insists that "in the building and restoration of churches the advice of experts is to be used". If the vote was taken most people would feel safer if this ruling was respected and particularly if priests and bishops took to heart the observations of the Prince of Wales.

Brighton Fr Mark Elvins IN A general discussion of modern Catholic Church architecture, (November 4), perhaps it is timely to remember the clear directives from Pope Paul VI on the supreme importance of church art. Pope Paul gave some on the occasion when he addressed a group of Italian artists in the Sistine Chapel on May 7, 1964 when (among other things) he said: "It is necessary to re-establish friendship between the Church and artists."

Over the last 20 years or so, few parish priests in England and Wales seem to have shared the Pope's enthusiasm. Among the few priests who did was the late Fr James Ethrington who had commissioned, a few years before the Pope's clarion call, many artists (including Graham Sutherland) to create religious art for his new church of St Aidan's, East Acton, London.

It seem to me that the need to re-establish friendship between the parish church and the artist is as urgent in 1988 as it was in 1964 in order to (in Pope Paul's words) "express the invisible world of the spirit, in accessible intelligible terms". Yet the prospect of modern religious art in a new church (of whatever overall design) is so often at the very bottom of the list of parish priorities. I agree with you that the crux is "the inside of the place of worship" but I would suggest that the crux must include both the architecture and the art.

J C M Nolan Chiswick Graham Sutherland's crucifixion at the Church of St Aldan, East Acton

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