Monday, May 20, 2013

Why design a cathedral like this?

Neviges is a little town in Germany. It has been visited by pilgrims since the late 1600s; in 1963 180,000 people made a pilgrimage there.

1963 was also the year that a design was to be selected for the new pilgrimage cathedral at Neviges. The designs most favoured by the jury were of the "hall church" type inspired by the functional modernism of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Chicago chapel:

Chapel of St Savior, Chicago
This style was reflected in many of the designs; roughly half of the competition participants "presented an isolated box with a square plan". You can see similar Catholic churches scattered throughout Melbourne's suburbs. The term "hall church" is a good one, as they often give you the sense that you are visiting a community hall rather than a church. Although a lot of these churches were built from the 1960s to 90s, they are based on a Chicago model built in 1949, from architectural ideas developed in the 1920s.

But the Archbishop rejected the jury's recommendations to build in this style. The Archbishop felt that the proposed designs lacked anything to link the building to its role as a church of pilgrimage.

In 1964 the Archbishop decided on a design by the German architect Gottfried Böhm:

Neviges Mariendom


Is the Böhm design really all that much better? The hall churches are cool and ordinary, but Böhm's design is chaotic and random in its exterior and coldly massive (cavernous) in the interior.

I'm tempted to ask here: which design would you have gone for if you had been the Archbishop? Would you have taken the box or the rocky outcrop?

Sometimes when you wonder why certain decisions were made in the twentieth century it's because people opted for what they thought was the least bad option. But it's a pity to be limited in this way.

And we shouldn't underestimate how far back modernism in the arts goes. In terms of church architecture, things seemed to change radically from about the 1920s onwards.

Finally, here is another of Gottfried Böhm's churches, this time from Cologne:

Is that really an improvement on traditional church architecture? (It looks a bit like a factory building to me.)


  1. I really think the intent of these monstrosities is to diminish the standing of westerners in the eyes of others.
    Kind of like this years Eurovision for Sweden was just made to humiliate them.
    Same principal.

  2. Is it well attended? Do the locals regard it as an eyesore (Fed Square) or delightful (St. Paul's / St. Patrick's)?

  3. I'm tempted to ask here: which design would you have gone for if you had been the Archbishop? Would you have taken the box or the rocky outcrop?

    Neither. How about this

  4. Why design a cathedral like this?

    I think it's about revolting the senses, in order to create sensation and passion, in order to feel alive. It loves to shock, it elevates the inferior and the ugly.

  5. The purpose of all modernist art is to demoralise the population. It's yet another delightful aspect of cultural marxism, yet another nail in the coffin of western civilisation. Art created by people who hate themselves and hate their own society.

  6. Why did a man whose two greatest inspirations were the horrible atheistic socialists Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius create ugly churches?

    To ask the question is practically to answer it.

    To quote Bruce Charlton, one reason behind the Left's deliberate uglification is:

    "Evil. The poisoning of mortal life by the propagation of ugliness. The perplexing and subversion of the human spirit by high status consensus that black is white, two plus two makes five and viscerally-repellent ugliness is beauty such that Rothko is analogous to Vermeer -- whereas in reality they were engaged in opposite activities - as different as evil from good, Satan from Christ."

    But no doubt Mark will insist that Böhm was really, truly, honestly, and genuinely trying to create attractive churches. Because autonomy or something.

  7. Broadly I agree with the previous comments, especially taking that third option for the church.

    I also think there's an issue of destabilization.

    Destabilization is a step on the road to destruction, which is a step on the road to replacement by a new orthodoxy (to prevent the old order from ever being re-established).

    The destabilization of group worship through politicized ("inclusive language"), un-poetic, inconsistent and un-traditional Bible translations is part of that.

    When everyone was reciting from one very familiar Bible translation that was highly traditional, poetic and familiar, quotes from which were part of everyday speech and culture, that created group worship of great solidity and cohesion.

    Naturally if you're a militant feminist and you want everything old melted down and made freely shape-able to suit your evolving dogmas, that's not what you want.

    This revolutionary agenda comes at a cost to worshipers, whose verbal ritual and expression of Biblical group solidarity is destabilized.

    I think this "new" (century-old) kind of architecture also is destabilizing, in a larger, less intimate way.

    Where a traditional church is an un-problematic, attractive and welcome part of the landscape, that is in historically Christian culture, this "abstract" kind of church architecture problematizes the presence of a church in the architectural space of the neighborhood. It calls it into question as alien, cold, out of place and ugly - perhaps something that ought not to be there?

    Buildings of this type are less a late stage of Christian architecture than an early stage of elite-led de-Christianization.

  8. I can't make sense of what I just saw without believing in a spiritual evil. There is organised pulsing hatred there. You can't read the Gospels and not see how it surrounds Jesus and worshipped by us to His torture and death. We strange God-men "Yet the Elves believe that Men are often a grief to Manwë, who knows most of the mind of Ilúvatar; for it seems to the Elves that Men resemble Melkor most of all the Ainur, although he has ever feared and hated them, even those that served him."

  9. That Neviges Cathedral is actually an intriguing design, but I'd imagine it were the fortress of a wizard-king. It would make a terrific Palace of Jadis in a movie version of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

    It would never occur to me that it was a house of worship, let along a Christian one.

    It also reminds me of the Fortress of the Beast in the '80 Fantasy-Scifi flick *Krull*.

    Where are the windows? Why does it look like an instrument of oppression? How can Christian leaders have such perverted aesthetics? I have come to agree that there is a demonic force at work here.

  10. The Bauhaus School is a product of the very same political thinking as the Frankfurt School. BUt this does not mean Bauhaus was all about ugly discomfort. Quite the opposite, most Bauhaus design is elegant simplicity.

    A lot of the industrial design that came out of the Bauhaus (late 1920's - early 1930's) is still considered cutting edge looks today, or at most a 'variations on a theme' type thing. Precisely because the Bauhaus was all about boiling a thing down to an essence.

    Which is what that Cathedral likely is supposed to be. A reduction to basic geometric shapes, turning the building itself into a kind of 3D impressionistic structure.

    We do the same thing today, only we pay more attention to surface treatments. For example, picture that same ugly Cathedral clad in white limestone or a marble. Or different faces with different materials to catch the light.

    I would bet the intent is to show the 'bedrock' nature of Religion by making the church look like an outcropping, which leads to an unlivable space. Which is odd, when you consider Bauhaus furniture is some of the most comfortable stuff you will ever sit in. The real stuff, not the knockoffs.

    Just remember Marshall McLuhan's "the medium is the message" and it helps make sense of some of the choices. Both the materials chosen, as well as it's shape, are of equal importance to the Bauhaus school.

  11. Whenever I see a building like this the concrete ugliness of it forces a comparison in my mind to the indelicate, soulless forms of a military pill-box.

  12. Whenever I see a building like this the concrete ugliness of it forces a comparison in my mind to the indelicate, soulless forms of a military pill-box.

    At least with the pillbox, form and function are perfectly aligned. With a church that looks like a pillbox... not so much.

  13. There are a number of books on the crisis in Church architecture. One that I read explains what happened when the Church adopted this awful style, the impression being the style helped create the crisis in faith, rather than the other way around. Though, it might be like the chicken and the egg argument, which one really came first?

    Here's a really good quote from No Place for God: The Denial of Transcendence in Modern Church Architecture by Moyra Doorly:

    ...Modernist architecture is the architecture of Relativist space, because by adopting the modernist style, the Church has incorporated Relativism into her very fabric... Relativist space is homogenous, directionless, and value-free. In other words, it is the same everwhere you look, and no part of it has any more significance than any other part. In the Relativist universe, there are no signposts and no obvious paths forward, because no place has anymore or less meaning than here. In Relativist space, boundaries and distinctions are dissolved, and since the concept of a special place set apart is an alien one, sacred space, by definition, cannot exist. Therefore in a universe from which the sacred has been eliminated, the only place for the individual is to look within.

  14. That kind of cathedral is probably the right place for people like Katharine Jefferts, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, with her modern mitre, priority on "diversity" (that is white genocide) and condemnation for Saint Paul and all who do not share her views as enemies of the Holy Spirit.

    A radical concrete cathedral looks like a place of evil. A church presided over by Katharine Jefferts and those who share her agenda is evil.

  15. Are the new mosques being built in (formerly) Christian countries like this?

    Who is doing better at preserving their religion? The traditionalists, or those who've capitulated to a debasing materialism that denies white identities and culture, even at the cost of destabilizing the Christianity that was historically a key part of most white cultures?

  16. The modern monster is quite close to what I imagined R'lyeh to look like. It doesn't look human, instead it is repulsively alien.