The post-war reconstruction of St. Anna Church in Düren

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Church of St. Anna, Düren 

This essay will explore the relationship between the church of St. Anna  in Düren, rebuilt after WWII, and the complex ideology of its architect who strived to realise in this building a faithful incarnation of his progressive theories. Continue reading “The post-war reconstruction of St. Anna Church in Düren”

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Church of the Immaculate Conception by Dom Paul Bellot

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Church of the Immaculate Conception by Dom Paul Bellot, front elevation     Photo: Sir-Jaques

As a result of an increase in the Catholic population in the region of Audincourt, north-east France, caused by a renewed wave of industrialisation at the beginning of the 20th century, building a new place of worship for the growing community became a necessity. Continue reading “Church of the Immaculate Conception by Dom Paul Bellot”

Sacred Heart Church by C M Hadfield

   Sacred_Heart_Church_by Mick Knapton  Sacred Heart Church by C M Hadfield       Photo: Mick Knapton

Sacred Heart Church in Hillsborough, Sheffield provides an example of a balanced mixture of innovation and conservatism at a time when central Europe was enthusiastically embracing the changes brought by the Liturgical Movement. Commissioned by Fr. Robert Dunford to replace a temporary structure which served the small community in Hillsborough for 15 years, the church was designed by C. M. Hadfield to accommodate a congregation of up to 800 people. It was completed in 1936 and opened with a solemn High Mass.

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Holy Cross church by Dominikus Böhm

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Holy Cross Church by Dominikus Böhm     Photo: Hans Jürgen Landes

This month we look at the highly acclaimed church of the Holy Cross in Dülmen, designed by Dominikus Böhm and built between 1936 and 1938. The origin and concept of the church are closely connected with Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824) who entered in 1802 the Augustinian convent of St. Agnes in Dülmen and was buried nearby the proposed site.

The church is located on a street corner and has a large courtyard enclosed by a low stone wall. The design is dominated by simplicity and clarity of architectural form. From the distance, two main sculptural masses are visible: the body of the church Continue reading “Holy Cross church by Dominikus Böhm”

Church of St. Joseph by Dominikus Böhm

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Church of St. Joseph by Dominikus Böhm   Photo: PetrusSilesius

This month we will visit a third masterpiece by Dominikus Böhm, a powerful, monumental yet austere church built in Zabrze, Poland. Belonging to the Expressionist style and constructed between 1930 and 1931, it was dedicated a year after completion to St. Joseph- patron saint of workers.

The parish of St. Joseph grew out of the medieval parish of St. Andrew and initially held services in the local school. At the initiative of Fr. Oswald however, plans were started and funds were raised for a new church to be designed by the highly regarded Dominikus Böhm. Continue reading “Church of St. Joseph by Dominikus Böhm”

Church of St. Adalbert by Clemens Holzmeister

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Church of St Adalbert by Clemens Holzmeister     Photo: Beek100

The catholic church of St. Adalbert was built between 1933 and 1934 in Berlin by the Austrian architect Clemens Holzmeister. Sitting quietly between residential buildings on a narrow and difficult reclaimed site, the church conceals an architectural gem with a fascinating history.

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Church of St Engelbert by Dominikus Böhm

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Church of St Engelbert by Dominikus Böhm

By the end of 1920s Dominikus Böhm was already well known as a fine architect of ecclesiastical buildings and a keen promoter of the ideas spread by the Liturgical Movement. The design of St. Engelbert at Köln-Riehl however is Böhm’s most daring ecclesiastical work which at the time met with strong opposition from the church authorities. It embodies through the centralised plan and the simplicity of its interior, key architectural changes which would influence many future ecclesiastical buildings.

Built between 1930 and 1932, St Engelbert is a construction consisting of eight parabolic walls surmounted by barrel vaults made of red brick and concrete, covered with zinc and arranged in a circular pattern. On the approach it has the appearance of a giant Continue reading “Church of St Engelbert by Dominikus Böhm”

Church of the Most Sacred Heart by Jože Plečnik

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Church of the Most Sacred Heart by Jože Plečnik       Photo: Martin Hapl via Flickr

Working simultaneously with the German Expressionists yet using a totally different stylistic idiom, the Slovene architect Jože Plečnik produced some of the most original religious architecture of the 20th century, one which can hardly be categorised. Displaying eclectic cultural references using generous ornamentation, somewhat at contrast with the more stark contemporary designs, many of his churches hide behind a traditional cloak a very Modern approach to liturgical program. It is the case with one of his most famed works, the church of the Most Sacred Heart in Prague, built between 1929 and 1932.

Commissioned by a growing Catholic community in Vinohrady, the design development of this church was marked by financial constraints. The competition wining proposal of a three-aisled nave and separate bell tower had to be reworked and reduced in scale, Continue reading “Church of the Most Sacred Heart by Jože Plečnik”

St. Fronleichnam church by Rudolf Schwarz

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St. Fronleichnam church by Rudolf Schwarz       Photo: www.moritzbernoully.com via Flickr

Born out of the same functionalist ideals as the church of St. Wenceslas in Prague, St. Fronleichnam in Aachen was built between 1928 and 1930 and is seen to this day as the quintessential work of Modernism in ecclesiastical architecture.

This radical building, both inspirational and controversial, could however not take shape without the background of major shifts in theological thinking. Rudolf Schwarz was a pupil and friend of Fr. Romano Guardini, the main Catholic figure behind the rise and spread of the Liturgical Movement which promoted Continue reading “St. Fronleichnam church by Rudolf Schwarz”

Church of St. Wenceslas by Josef Gočár

1Church of St. Wenceslas by Josef Gočár       Photo:  Dominika Macková

During the second quarter of the 20th century, a change in building technique and a new found preference for mass produced objects led architects to a new style which sought to strip away any unnecessary ornamentation from a building, celebrating instead the clean, straight lines of the pure, albeit cold geometrical shapes.

Prague had been one of the main centres where this new architectural concept developed. In 1927 a competition was set Continue reading “Church of St. Wenceslas by Josef Gočár”

St. John the Baptist by Dominikus Böhm

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St. John the Baptist by Dominikus Böhm       Photo: Mario H. via Flickr

After World War I, Germany’s fragmented economical state coupled with the growing importance of the machine in the industry led to a search for a new model, a utopia to be aspired to which would express the unity of mankind in a single, cohesive outburst of artistic creativity. This was the context in which Expressionist architecture was to develop in the 1920s and 1930s, with particularly notable projects materialised in German sacred architecture.

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Notre Dame du Raincy by Auguste Perret

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Notre Dame du Raincy by Auguste Perret       Photo: B. Milanese via Flickr

A few weeks ago I wrote here about the innovation brought in ecclesiastical architecture by Anatole de Baudot’s  experimentation with reinforced cement. This week I will be discussing another highly influential church in Paris which uses reinforced concrete to transform our perception of space while revolutionising modern architecture of the past century.

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Santa Coloma de Cervelló crypt by Antoni Gaudí

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Santa Coloma de Cervelló crypt by Antoni Gaudí     Photo: Maria Rosa Ferre

Antoni Gaudí is one of the most well known architects of our time, with a body of work which transcends age and defies any rigorous classification in terms of style or influence. His religious buildings are marked by the architect’s capacity to observe nature and find inspiration for simple and functional design solutions. Firmly believing that architects should strive to create functional rather than beautiful designs, he produced an architecture removed from the traditional use of platonic forms and inclined towards the logic irregularity of the natural world.

Santa Coloma de Cervelló was intended as a Continue reading “Santa Coloma de Cervelló crypt by Antoni Gaudí”

Quarr Abbey by Dom Paul Bellot

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Quarr Abbey by Dom Paul Bellot, West front        Photo: Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose via Flickr

This week I turn my attention back to UK to write about one of my favourite places of worship in this country, a church which I have had the great pleasure to visit less than a year ago: Quarr Abbey by Dom Paul Bellot.

Educated in Paris at École des Beaux-Arts towards the end of the 19th century, Bellot was influenced by Auguste Choisy and Viollet-le-Duc’s ideas of structural rationalism, truthfulness to materials and belief that architectural order could drive social order. Continue reading “Quarr Abbey by Dom Paul Bellot”

Church of the Holy Spirit by Jože Plečnik

3491502194_26a87fa70b_oChurch of the Holy Spirit by Jože Plečnik, interior, Photo: courtesy of Thomas Winwood

After a break for the Christmas holiday (spent, amongst other things, visiting some of the oldest churches in Tuscany), I am glad to be back and continue writing on 1900s modern ecclesiastical architecture, this week discussing a church as impactful on 20th century church design as it is unknown.

Far less famous than its predecessor St. Leopold am Steinhof, the church of the Holy Spirit Continue reading “Church of the Holy Spirit by Jože Plečnik”

St. Leopold am Steinhof by Otto Wagner

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Church of St. Leopold by Otto Wagner    Photo: Ronald Peschetz

I begin the series of discussions on modern ecclesiastical buildings by looking at one of the most famous and controversial churches of the first decade of the past century.

Commissioned as part of a psychiatric hospital complex in Vienna, St. Leopold am Steinhof is a catholic church built between 1903 and 1907 for the patients and staff by Otto Wagner, one of the most renown Austrian architects and an important member of the Vienna Secession. Born out of a desire to escape traditionalism and avoid historicism, the design of this vaguely Continue reading “St. Leopold am Steinhof by Otto Wagner”

Introduction to Modern Architecture

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Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris     Photo: Armen Yesayan

So what makes today’s church architecture so different from the one developed until the 20th century? What does it lack in order to inspire us joy and humbleness? Is modern architecture truly incompatible with ecclesiastical designs? These are all difficult but fundamental questions for those interested in sacred architecture.

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Sacred building

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Notre-Dame Basilica, Montreal by James O’Donnell    Photo: Neil Howard

Before making any comment on the state of present church architecture, I would like to take a brief look at the essential aspects that make an ordinary building a church.

Canon Law defines the church as “a sacred building intended for divine worship, to which the faithful have right of access for the exercise, especially the public exercise, of divine worship”. As simple as this definition may sound, it implies a number of points far more difficult to apply in practice than to explain.

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Architecture and morality

Church of light by Tadao Ando

Church of Light by Tadao Ando     Photo: Chris He

One of our basic human desires is to create order within chaos, which manifests itself in our efforts to place spatial boundaries into a limitless universe. We strive to give form to our understanding of the infinite by breaking it down into legible shapes. “To create architecture is to put in order”, Le Corbusier mentioned, but good architecture also requires a preoccupation for humans’ questions and society’s problems, bringing together our quest for the transcendental and the attempt to respond to social concerns.

Continue reading “Architecture and morality”