Sunday, June 29, 2008

Trees and Clouds and Churches

I stumbled across a bit from Chesterton having to do with Gothic architecture. I don't have the exact quote with me at present, but it compared the architecture to the Church militant: the tall spears and the crossed swords, strong and soldier-like.

Chesterton not only brings me to understand other things, but he also brings me to understand myself. I think I can see a little clearer now why Gothic architecture 'speaks to me' so clearly. It represents the strong and true Church that I love... marching on against the armies of Hell, continually proclaiming Truth in a world that doesn't believe in such a thing as objective Truth. It represents the countless saints and martyrs, those heroic soldiers of Christ, who have gone before me. It represents Christ, the same yesterday, today, forever.

And on the other side, I see a little clearer why I do not like the architecture and art we see in many churches today... those vague and abstract forms, strange swirling crystals above the altar, everything flitting, dodging, unsteady, uncertain. They seem to represent a different kind of church, a church that doesn't quite know where it came from or where it's going, a church that doesn't really have any set doctrine and dogma, a church that flutters and shakes and bends in the strong breezes of the world.

In a piece about Modernism, Chesterton made the comparison between the Tree and the Cloud. While the Tree, representing a philosophy grounded in truth, could grow and expand, the inmost rings were always present, and were also the center and foundation of the tree. Now the Cloud, representing Modernism, is vague and hazy, scuttling here and there across the sky, with no roots and no grounding.

Why is it that classic church architecture, such as Gothic, seems in its great height and strength to be very much like a tree, while the art we see in so many churches undeniably resembles clouds?

Gothic architecture, and other traditional forms, most definitely 'speak to me.' But I'm not going to say that modern church architecture doesn't. It, too, speaks to me. It's just that I don't like what I hear from it. Vagueness, abstractness, uncertainty.

And I wonder if the proponents of modern architecture in reality feel somewhat the same way? They often say that those gorgeous old churches of ages past don't 'speak to them,' but I wonder if maybe they are hearing something, and simply not liking it. Strength, swords and spears, an unflinching and resolute Truth.


Algernon said...

Hurrah! Down with modern architecture! A fig for abstraction! To the dickens with Post Modernism![And all that jazz.]

Seriously though, thanks for synthesising. My dislike of modern churches was always kind of vague.

RoseinFaith said...

I wholeheartedly agree with you, Mamselle! One of the saddest sights in church architecture, especially, is an old church "redone" in a modern way. I recall that once I went to Mass in a grand, cathedral-styled church built in the "old days." The architecture of the church was incredibly inconsistent--on the outside, it looked like the beautiful cathedral it was meant to be. In recent years, however, it had undergone "renovation." The beautiful stain glass windows, which had depicted the traditional church window scenes, had been entirely replaced. In their place were windows that, instead of pictures, were blotches of squares and awkward, many-angled shaped in no order or pattern. The best thing to compare it to would be a box of old crayons; no order, mixed and smudgy colors, a wasteland of confusion and blurriness.
A recurring theme I noticed in the overall decor of the "renovated" church was twisted metal shapes that must have been meant to represent fire, water, or lava of some sort. They were placed behind the tabernacle---which, by the way, was in the shape of a sphere, and was not in the front center of the church, but off to the side--- and behind a statue of the Virgin Mary. Even the crucifix struck me as unusually angular and misshapen. I suppose the sculptor thought them beautiful or inspiring; I certainly didn't. Instead of lifting my mind and heart to God, it distracted me, and brought to mind images of crooked things---not goodly, or godly, things.
Fortunately, the priest gave a good homily.

Mapaz said...

Look what I found in Belloc's biography regarding this idea. Well, at least, more or less. When I read it reminded me of this post.

"I think that beauty and love, and things which people generally look down upon as not stoic or heroic, are the essence of heroism and manly feeling, and this because they are the essence of God as we hear of Him and understand him. I felt this in chapel today, that the light feeling which proceeds from love or something beautiful, is not a feeling that will pass, but the happines of angels in the love of God. Have you ever felt that in one of those beautiful churches, Notre Dame or St Ouen, how one loves the beauty around one so much that one is convinced that it was the grace of God, as well as man, that helped to build that church?"

don pedro said...

I am yet another gothic-lover to add to the list.

Mapaz, I totally agree. Perhaps the best built church I have even seen is the Basilica of Luján. Interestingly enough, the church is made out of pink sandstone; however, the traditional gothic architecture is simply unrivaled. The archs that form the main hall are particularly amazing and really made my head spin, despite all the nets and stuff they had for renovation (real renovation, where they clean things, not redesign them) =)