Calling for a New Counter-Reformation in Sacred Art and Architecture

Christ Chapel drawing Duncan Stroik
Architectural illustration of Christ Chapel in Hillsdale, Michigan by architect Duncan G. Stroik (source)

In a similar way that the Counter-Reformation, as its name describes, countered the Reformation, the Church must again counter a new “reformation.” But this new reformation has really been more of an internal revolution of modernism that has cause enormous damage within the Church as well as outside. Many have felt strongly that some kind of rediscovery and return to the rich architectural traditions of the Church, much like the return to the Traditional Latin Mass, should play a major role in this new counter-reformation. I agree.

Duncan Stroik is a practicing architect and devout Catholic who specializes in church design. He has been on a crusade of sorts to bring back to the foreground the traditions of church design that were once taken for granted and then largely lost (but, of course, not really lost, for we still have many examples). He is a leading voice in the return to beautiful and properly designed churches “movement,” if that’s the right word for it. He is also an author and Professor of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame.

Here is a recent lecture he gave, along with numerous examples, on twelve points of this new counter-reformation. This was part of the Catholic Artists Society’s 2018 Art of the Beautiful lecture series at New York University’s Catholic Center:

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades Lecture: Serving the Church through Architecture

Many good points. The Q&A at the end is perhaps most interesting.

Duncan G. Stroik: Francis, Rebuild My Church: The Franciscan Tradition of Sacred Architecture

This is a good overview lecture of Franciscan architecture, but also basic principles of good Church architecture in general as well. Duncan Stroik, a noted Catholic architect and professor at Notre Dame University.

Some of the images do not match what he is saying. Mostly it seems they just don’t show all the images, but it’s still a good lecture.

Considering Sacred Architecture

Here is another lecture from Duncan Stroik. Most people are not going to find a lecture on sacred architecture to be all that interesting, but I find this fascinating. In fact, I think it is quite important.

I’m not going to say much here about church architecture, but it’s clear that many, perhaps most, of our churches today do not serve us in the way God designed us to be served. We do not generally build sacred spaces anymore — except maybe in sports stadiums and museums. Too many Catholic churches today, those built over that last 50-75 years or less, have designs that seem to be based on assumptions (if anyone assumes at all) that the space will be made sacred by the Real Presence and a few common Catholics items, and thus we don’t need to have architecture that reaches towards Heaven. In one sense it’s true that we don’t need church buildings to point us to Heaven, or at least it’s logical, but in practice there is often a corresponding denial of the more mysterious aspects and needs of our humanity in our church designs.

I wonder what cultural forces have shaped our world such that many Catholics see no problems with, and even love, lousy church architecture. Perhaps we have lost the understanding of what a sacred space truly is, and that, I suppose, only comes about because we have lost the understanding of what a human being is — a sad thing indeed, especially for Catholics.