Page 4, 6th July 1979

6th July 1979
Page 4
Page 4, 6th July 1979 — Post-war Catholic church design

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Post-war Catholic church design

Dr Chappells zit-tide of June 15. examining the present attitude to the design of plaves of worship. could have gone much Farther than it did.

Post-war Catholic church design has not been particularly strong in England and Wales (except for a few notable exceptions). most probabl>. because no critical dialogue between architects and clergy was ever developed at national level as it has in Germany (to which Dr Chappell refers).

Even the principal individuals of liturgical development in this country have been arguably incapable of. or uninterested in. producing an architecture to match their theories: and even now, no doubt, in any history of Catholic worship in England from the 19th century currently being written. liturgical design will be omitted or at best treated en passion.

Nevertheless. informed innovations breaking with the "Tridentine" norms of St Charles Borromeo, • did start much further back and in the 19th century, as I am sure Dr Chappel would recognise from his own researches. Certainly, even in this country before Vatican II, in the diocese of Leeds, in which Dr Chappell lives. there is evidence of innovation.

In the Church of the First Martyrs at Bradford. built in 1937. reflecting Continental archaeological scholarship and growing pastoral concern for the loss of Catholics in industrial areas, Mgr John O'Conner. in dialogue with the artist Eric Gill and the aid of a local licentiate architect. sought a recovery of the laity in a single octagonal space unified by a central altar: "In complete sympathy with the Liturgy we begin by making the altar conspicuous and most accessible since you will not revive the Liturgy before you disinter it!"

That was said and innovated nearly 30 years before the competition for Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral (a photograph of vs'hich illustrated Dr Chappell's article) was Promoted by (-ordinol Heenan. formerly Bishop of I.eeds.

While Dr Chappell recognises that Vatican II did not of itself initiate change in church building design, he does not say that the economic reality of post-war building costs. the development in construction techniques, the eventual acceptance of the international style of the moder movement in architecture, the urban renewal and expansion programmes. etc, etc, all contributed to the manifestation of examples of church building quite different from the traditional types. Changes in liturgical emphasis and orientation alone do not explain changes in church design. .

For the future, Dr Chappell does not even refer to such problems as squaring current moral qualms about owning property with psychological needs for a localised sense of personal and communal "space" that becomes "place": or a condemnation of materialism with a regard for buildings and their contents as "resources": or rationalism with the "do-it-yourself" brigades; or aestheticism with the mass commercial production of devotional and catechetical kitsch: or syntheticism with the aids and media enthusiasts.

He gets near to the latter though when he talks about "an evolving building". Does he have in mind an aircraft hangar laith theatrical "flats'• that can he modulated, together with lighUsound projection systems. and fly-posted ephemera? What would he w rong with that, it that is what he has in mind? I i would he a lair liturgical reflection of the secular host culture.

Lastly. of the mans points that could he made, what does he consider the future relevance of cathedrals to he? The Catholic Ilerald h.i tilieddy now n u k it c apropos Westminster.

at the time when Coventry and Liverpool were being built. and Guildford and Northampton being finished, there was much debate about the relevance of large cathedrals as a building type in the 20th century.

Now some would say they are the most relevant of all church building types — worship at parish and group level being best conducted in ad hoe arrangements in schools, centres, homes and other secular locations. What does lie say about that?

Paul D. Walker Convenor. Department of Art and Architecture. Liturgy Commission. Eckington.


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