Monday, January 28, 2008

Lance sends along an ingenious $1 camera shake solution. Many churches get antsy when you bust out the tripod, so this is key; and it makes the Truro easier to attain.

Monday, January 21, 2008


The Germans may be well ahead of us in understanding that architecture is uniquely suited to communicating essential, otherwise silent aspects of the gospel. In his Monumentale Theologie of 1867, the German theologian Ferdinand Piper grasped this clearly. "Art," he tells us,
has a thoroughly different form of expression than speech: it also addresses itself to the entire person, not through the faculty of concepts, but rather through the higher faculty of vision... The difference lies in the fact that, whereas in thinking the object is divided up, that is, the perception is a fluid one, bound to a series of moments, the work of art allows the whole to be recognized in its spatial entirety, undivided in the immediacy of all its moments.
Piper then cites a remark attributed to Napolean. "Chartres cathedral might make an atheist feel uncomfortable" (hat tip for these references to this fine book).

Let there be no doubt about the need for precision in theological language, if only for responding to theological errors, which because there exists an objective, actual God, are possible. Still, Hegelian hangover or not, Piper is right. While Christianity is dependent upon discursive theology to defend the perpetually assaulted specificity of God’s revelation in Christ, theology is dependent on architecture for something as well. Heaven is not a book club, but a Beatific Vision. I expect it will not involve digesting a multi-volume theological treaty. Heaven will, I imagine, be somewhat more overwhelming and immediate, comparable to one’s first sight of a Gothic Cathedral; while the first sight of an Evangelical warehouse brings to mind somewhere else.

Monday, January 14, 2008

"Jesus Saves" counterpart

Wish I could take the credit for this one, it's a beaut. A friend took in on NYC New Year's. What's worse, he had just littered.

With posts like these this blog will become the sartorialist of churches. We're aiming high.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Heavy Laden?

A fellow flickerian, and contributor to the photo pool with the above shot of Renwick's masterpiece beckoning Atlas (note the sly title), sends along a brilliant quote from Ludwig Wittgenstein:
"Architecture immortalizes and glorifies something. Hence there can be no architecture where there is nothing to glorify" (Culture and Value, 69e).
One might think that contemporary architecture's claim to not tell a story sidesteps this rule. But despite such narratiphobia, starchitecture is as committed as ever to glorifying its maker. On this score may I recommend Michael J. Lewis' article The rise of the "starchitect".

I for one prefer buildings, like St. Patrick's Cathedral, that glorify its maker's Maker.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Five Spire Rating

I'd like to recommend the five spire system to rate churches. Not the churches themselves, mind you, but to rate how well we imbibe them. Feedback is welcome.

1 spire ("the Toulouse"). A simple drive-by shooting, like this. Sometimes you have to settle for the Toulouse, as it's better for the church to get the drive-by than the photographer. We actually saw a police chase on that trip.

2 spires ("the Chartres"). Multi-angle exterior photography on foot, as with this abandoned church just before the Holland Tunnel.

3 spires ("the Cologne"). Exterior and interior photography, as with Trinity Church in Princeton - be sure to see Lance's as well, for this was the inaugural joint mission of the North American Churches group.

3.5 spires ("the Truro"). Exterior and interior photography including balcony or other normally closed spots, and/or busting out the tripod (mono-pod won't get you the half-spire). By talking to a kind janitor, I got upstairs in St. George's Orthodox Church, Toronto with tripod at full extension - "the Truro" was mine. If you know of a more apt example of a 3.5 spire church than Truro, do tell.

4 spires ("the Gaudí "). An actual tour, however informal, given by an informed parishioner, janitor, pastor, etc. We scored a ringing Gaudí at Peddie Memorial in Newark by meeting the pastor who described his very challenging ministry and showed us around.

5 spires ("the San Marco"). In keeping with rule #2, worship in the space in addition to all of the above. I scored a San Marco at the O.G. this summer, and you can read all about it.

Now when someone says, "I scored a chincy one spire drive-by when I wanted a San Marco, but the church was closed; I'm a real Toulouse-er," you'll know what they mean. But let's hope it never comes to that.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

a matter of gospel

For an inaugural quote to communicate the urgency of this blog enterprise, here's a lift from this fine book:
Architecture for churches is a matter of gospel. A church that is interested in proclaiming the gospel must also be interested in architecture, for year after year the architecture of the church proclaims a message that either augments the preached Word or conflicts with it. Church architecture cannot, therefore, be left to those of refined taste, the aesthetic elite, or even the professional architect.