SIR,-For some weeks you have been publishing correspondence about church design. In such controversy it is always difficult to avoid the charge of trying to impose on others one's private taste, or being a " debunker." But your publication on January 17 of the design for the new Church of St. Teresa in Chester once again puts the issues so clearly that silence would be wrong.
The issue is not whether one "style " is more appropriate than another. In its simplest form it is this: Is this church, typical of many, perhaps the majority, of those being built on estates all over the country, performing any of the traditional apostolic functions of Christian architecture? If not. what will its effect be ?
The traditional functions are: (I) In plan, to provide the clearest functional and symbolic space to unite priest and people in the liturgy (2) In construction, to enclose this space and protect it from the elements in the most economic way, having due regard to durability and maintenance. (3) In appearance to speak the unambiguous and living language of harmony, proportion, and symbol, using representational art as required for doctrinal teaching.
The combination of these three into an indivisible whole is architecture. It is the work of the architect. Where it has been achieved it is not only an expression of Christian faith but, as it is bound to be (since architecture is a universal language, understood by all), a powerful means for converting the unbeliever Christian architects and the Church have traditionally regarded this as one of the greatest of apostolic works. Here, as in missionary work or Catholic Action, there is no room for the sham, pompous or wasteful historical fancy dress.
It is heartbreaking that at a time when Catholics are struggling to find money for their schOols, they should be saddled also with the extra expense which bad design involves. You cannot get away from it turrets, buttresses, lancet windows. mock battlements and stone dressings are not only without meaning, but they cost money. Those who impose this expense on Catholics bear a heavy responsibility.
Living architecture cannot, of course, be described in newspaper colemns. As ROM as an attempt is made. the glib. mocking retorts of " Nissen huts," " shoeboxes" or " greenhouses" will come from some: from others, an honest puzelement. An open-minded discussion of the recent work of French. German. Dutch, Italian and South American church architects will help many.
But all must realise that this is not a matter for private taste of layman, priest or Bishop but that there is, among the trained and informed, a solid consensus of opinion. The great problem is to make this available to Bishop or priest, much as the opinion of the Royal Fine Arts Commission is available for public buildings.
The setting up of a similar commissionfor church buildings, on a national or diocesan level may be one answer. An approach to the professional body the Royal Institute of British Architects for a panel of consultants or assessors would be another. But more important than the mechanics of the scheme is the' basic notion of honest search for expert advice.
The desire for security within the confines of one's familiar (perhaps narrow) visual experience, for protection against shock or amazement is and let us be quite clear about this an attempt to narrow the life of the soul. In contrast with the clarity, precision and startling force of Christian doctrine it is soul-killing and action based on this desire, either felt as a motive or accepted as a habit, is unworthy of a Christian.
Thomas A. Markus "Oakwood," Crank Road, Billinge. near Wigan, Lancs.
Inadequate for Serious Study
SIR, ---I hasten to assure Miss
Charlier that I do know of the existence of the Catholic Central Library. It is excellent as far as it goes, but it is inadequate for serious study. Butler's " Vatican Council " refers the reader to the "Dictionnaire de theologie catholique" for a full discussion of the question of infallibility. As far as I am aware this work is not available in any London library normally accessible to the public. To see Migne's patrologies, Cabrol's Dictionnaire d'Archeologic Chretienne et de Liturgic " or " Acts Sanctorum " one has to go to Dr. Williams's Library (a Protestant foundation) or the British Museum. This situation I want to see remedied by a really good library with adequate funds to maintain it.
H. D. Westacolt
31, Poole Rd., West Ewell,