In part 3 of his Catholic Architecture series, Dr. Denis McNamara looks to the Old Testament to find clues to the ideal design of churches. In ancient Israel after the period of exile, Jewish worship was divided between synagogue and temple. Synagogues were places of gathering where Jews went to hear the Scriptures proclaimed. The temple in Jerusalem was the place of sacrifice.
In the Christian era, synagogue and temple come together. Catholic churches are places of both Scripture and sacrifice (the Eucharist), and this truth has implications for church architecture.
We are accustomed today to the understanding that beauty is subjective. We all know the statement, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Is that true?
In this second episode of the Catholic Architecture series, Dr. McNamara provides us a definition of beauty: “We call things beautiful when they reveal their ontological reality to us.” This is a fancy way of saying that we call things beautiful when they look like what they really are.
There is a movement in contemporary church design to revive color and detail. After a few decades of scrubbing church interiors free of “unnecessary” or “distracting” ornamentation, Catholics realized that what they were left with was not so much sober and simple as it was bland and uninspiring.
Does it matter what your church looks like? Is a church building just a place in which to gather out of the elements, or is there some kind of significance in the way it’s put together? More importantly, does God care about any of this?
In this 10-part video series entitled “Catholic Architecture,” Dr. Denis McNamara lays out the theological rationale for sacred architecture in the Catholic tradition. Each short, accessible episode focuses on one aspect of sacred architecture and how it supports the Catholic understanding of God, worship, and the Sacraments.
This week, we look at the first episode, “Architectural Theology,” where Dr. McNamara argues that material things can be used to communicate something of the mind of God and the nature of the Church. In this way, church architecture is not merely a matter of personal taste or what’s popular, but rather should present a foretaste of Heavenly realities.
Dr. McNamara McNamara holds a Bachelor of Arts in History of Art from Yale University, as well as a Masters and Doctorate in Architectural History from the University of Virginia. He is currently the Director of the Center for Beauty and Culture at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.
When we consider truth and beauty, we don’t usually think about our own dress and appearance. Part of the reason may be that we’re afraid we will be engaging in vanity if we show concern for these things. But perhaps the biggest reason is simply the fact that, as a society, we have become extremely casual in our dress. This applies particularly to men for some reason. We’ve decided that how we present ourselves is not important. After all, who cares what anyone else thinks? I wear what I like and what’s most comfortable—end of story.
On this great feast of the Immaculate Conception, take a few minutes to enjoy a tour of the eponymous Cathedral Basilica in Denver. It’s a lovely example of early-20th century French Gothic architecture in America. The so-called “Gothic revival” or “Neo-Gothic” movement started in England and spread to Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, eventually landing in America, resulting in many beautiful new churches, including St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.