Church architecture
Great cathedrals are 'catechism in stone', says architect

.- Cathedrals should be a "catechism in stone that represents the whole diocese," said architect Duncan Stroik at a recent lecture on church architecture.

The associate professor of architecture at the University of Notre Dame spoke at the Bishop O'Connor Catholic Pastoral Center in Madison March 8th, as part of the St. Thérèse of Lisieux Lecture Series.

His talk addressed an imminent concern for the diocese. St. Raphael Cathedral in Madison was destroyed by fire in March 2005 and the diocese is currently discussing plans for a new cathedral.

According to the Catholic Herald, Stroik said great cathedrals around the world are “symbols of their cities” and form part of each city’s identity.

He recounted the story of the 12th-century construction of the magnificent cathedral in the small French town of Chartres. It is one of the world’s finest cathedrals and examples of Gothic architecture, he said. The cathedral was rebuilt twice after being destroyed by fire.

Fires have scourged other important churches as well, including St. Paul Outside the Wall and St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, he said.

Stroik said the "sacredness of the site" must be taken into account in the location of a cathedral. The site of St. Raphael Cathedral in Madison, whose cornerstone was laid in 1854, is sacred, he said. "There's a strong argument for rebuilding on the same site," Stroik emphasized.

He added that temples are usually the greatest work of architecture in a city. “Historically it's been the temple, not the office building, apartments, or condos," he said.

According to St. Augustine, Stroik recalled, there are two cities: the City of God and the City of Man. The two must "talk" with each other, he said.

"The cathedral in the city should be salt and light. We look for architecture that can preach, be seen from the streets. Its placement and size has a conversation with the city architecture. The goal is to bring us all to the City of God."

The professor said he prefers cathedrals to be in the city, rather than in the suburbs, so that they can be in "dialogue" with the buildings of state and academia, providing a "living room" in the public square.

He is an advocate of providing a piazza, a garden or atrium with the cathedral open to public gatherings. Other elements of a great cathedral, he said, include a dome, towers or spires, a more private cloister garden, a baptistry (which used to be a separate building in earlier times), a prominent tabernacle, and smaller chapels.

It also needs a generous-sized sanctuary for large liturgical events, office space, meeting rooms, a rectory, as well as for the mission of charity, he added.

Stroik admitted that people may question spending money on "bricks and mortar" when the Church needs to serve the needy. But he said it is important to have a cathedral with the mission of charity to the poor. "Among the poorest must be counted those without faith or hope," he said.

Stroik's designs reflect his commitment to the principles of classical architecture. His involvement in the new renaissance of sacred architecture has led to the formation of the Society for Catholic Liturgy and the Sacred Architecture Journal, of which he is editor.

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