Why Catholics Should Build Beautiful Churches

Designer: Andrew Gould – Interior: Matthew Alderman – Architect of Record: Christian LeBlanc

This is the proposed interior of our new church at OurLady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, South Carolina.

Why should Catholics build beautiful churches? First, because beauty is eternal and the Catholic faith is ever ancient and ever new. God’s love is eternal and the Catholic faith will last until the end of time. Something that is beautiful improves with age, and so with the Catholic faith, and therefore a beautiful Catholic church speaks of the antiquity and permanence of the faith it proclaims.
Secondly Beauty is attractive. It draws you in. It is an experience. I know a young priest who was raised a Baptist and went into a beautiful Catholic Church when he was fifteen years old. He immediately knelt and knew he was not only going to be a Catholic, but that he was supposed to be a Catholic priest. Beauty in a Catholic Church is something ‘crazy’ for God in a brutal utilitarian age. But that beauty speaks of the attraction of God himself and it helps to draw us into his presence.
Thirdly, Beauty is Truth and Truth Beauty. That’s all you need to know. We comprehend verbal expressions of Truth with our mind, but we apprehend beauty with our heart. The heart has reasons that the mind knows nothing of, and it is beauty which unlocks the secret chambers of the heart. Beauty is the language of worship. Beauty is the language of the soul, and how can our religion penetrate to the  heart of our soul unless it is beautiful? How can the liturgy be celebrated beautifully in a church that is harsh, utilitarian, nasty and cheap?
I hope if you like what you see in the beautiful design of our church, that you will get excited with us and do what you can to help us build this church. One thing you can do is to help give the project publicity. Talk it up and help us do something beautiful for God. Go here to visit the parish website dedicated to the new church. Learn more about it and pass it on.

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16767864554712768162 Emily

    Lovely design! I agree that we need beautiful churches. While Mass is still Mass in less visually appealing churches, I find that a beautiful church always adds to my awe.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09479406473813028616 Arnold Conrad

    Congratulations, Father. The church design, both the interior and the exterior, is beautiful. The campanile reminds me of the one on my old boyhood parish church in Des Moines, St. John's Basilica. What type of seating do you contemplate, regular fixed pews or removable chairs with kneelers? This movement toward more traditional church architecture seems to be strongest in the South. I have read that the level of converts ona percentage basis is highest in the South as more and more Protestants come into contact with the Church for the first time. A stronger and more visible presence may accelerate that trend. Is that your view as well? Arnold Conrad

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14987757858003642611 Ryan

    I agree, Father. However, let us keep in mind that the we are the true temples of God and that a building made of wood and stone is merely a shadow of where God truly dwells.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12858120820470784593 Anneg

    Beautiful which leads to awe of God.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11086068884134493993 love the girls

    While I agree, of course, that churches should be beautiful, the rendering's column capitals are not nearly wide enough to signify the load they are carrying above.As they are, they're little better than modern architectural pilotis.Just a pet gripe of mine, because it happens so often.

  • https://openid.aol.com/opaque/6f59a872-f2b0-11e0-a0a3-000bcdcb8a73 6f59a872-f2b0-11e0-a0a3-000bcdcb8a73

    Wow! So beautiful. A beautiful church always helps me 'lift up my heart' to God.I disagree that our churches are merely shadows… God truly dwells within our church in the Tabernacle, just as He is in us when we are in a state of grace. We should make the churches as beautiful as we can for that reason!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15030859708747396550 Alix

    Yikes, that comment above is by me, Alix; the name looks like a Borg designation. Sorry!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06223235205492924930 Anil Wang

    "Beauty is Truth and Truth Beauty. That's all you need to know"As someone who learned Platonism long before I learned even the basics of my Catholic faith, it seemed obvious to me that "The Good", "The True", and "The Beautiful" all were intricately related. Anything good naturally tended to become beautiful even if it was not obvious at first — witness Mother Teresa. Physicists and Computer Science often use beauty as a primary criteria for the truth of a theory. Something that is truly good cannot be untrue.Somehow things went wrong a century ago, when truth got equated with ugliness and beauty with wickedness (lust). We have to remind the world that, in the beginning it was not so.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04455378574483666132 tommy0274

    Beautiful, but where are the alter rails?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07564546155986482730 Matthew M

    Are you sure your Bishop will allow this?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr Longenecker

    The altar rail is the black granite or marble wall right at the beginning of the sanctuary level.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12174988412332800837 Justin Condreay

    Absolutley gorgeous. I love how the building stucture flows so easily. Very easy on the eyes, and makes you appriciate good archetechure. I'm sure God's very pleased with his new crib! Keep up the great posts! You got me following!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12633869390917695579 Matthew

    Wonderful – congratulations, Father!Is that a single altar situated for celebration versus Deum exclusively!!?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr Longenecker

    The altar is situated in such a way for Mass to be celebrated either way.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11373571736291858195 Peter Murphy

    It looks beautiful, however, I have noticed that many contemporary Catholic Church designs – even more traditional ones do not leave room for artwork. The places where we would traditionally have paintings or sculpture are filled in with some kind of architectural detail instead.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16531960356984104721 Christina

    Looks wonderful Father! So glad Greenville will have its choice of two gorgeous churches to worship at now! My husband converted after taking your RCIA classes two years ago. We got married at St. Mary's this past January. We are in Atlanta now, and attend Christ the King, but still miss all of the great priests in Greenville.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02082723705687057148 justamouse

    Wow. Wow, wow, wow. I am blessed to worship in a gorgeous church, but your plans are absolutely beautiful. It seems very EO, without the pews and such. re: having beautiful places to worship- one of the reasons I started attending our local parish was the architecture. It's very traditional, but with an arts and crafts style to it, arches and all. On the main strip of town are all of the Protestant churches, and ours is teeny, on a side street. It was built by the 'help' of those who lived on Knob Hill back in the day of 1871. But they spared no beauty and I'm thankful to them for their sacrifice. Write the history of your church building so in a hundred years or two, people can read about hose who built it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01178647775806071721 Jackson K. Eskew

    "The altar is situated in such a way for Mass to be celebrated either way." What a shame. Will this Conciliar nonsense ever end? While the business about the good, the true, and the beautiful is quite fashionable among Conciliarists, the hard truth is that truth is often quite ugly and brutal, the good is often hidden in ugliness, and the beautiful isn't always true or good. Let's grow up. Let's abandon this kind of wretched sentimentality.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08209415166878694058 Don Schenk

    I remember that the reason that Phil Donahue said that the reason he left the Church was because too much money which could have been spent on the poor was spent on his suburban parish.Years later he complained that he couldn't get into a yatch club that he wanted to. Beautiful churches are for people who can't afford rowboats.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09262587917905900259 Resilient Tucsonian

    Can you change the background color or the color of your text? Right now your page comes across with a maroon background and black taxt. Lighten the background or use white text.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06564111376175876800 Matthew

    Hi, this is Matthew Alderman, who, in collaboration with Father and the overall project designer, Andrew, devised the interior furnishing concepts and the color/materials scheme. Regarding artwork: there's plenty of it in this design, and plenty of spaces for it to be inserted later. The design is meant to look good without it, but that does not mean it couldn't be added later someday.The altarpieces and woodwork will have symbolism incorporated into them if possible, and certainly the two side shrines will have statues of Our Lady and St. Joseph in them. The other thing is that quality is more important than quantity, and I'd rather have one or two very good artworks rather than cluttering the place up with mediocre shopgoods. As to the altar, even pre-conciliar liturgical manuals acknowledged than the principal altar of a church, even an altar used exclusively versus Deum, is the most liturgically correct when it can be circumambulated (ie, freestanding), for the purposes of its consecration and incensation during solemn masses. And for now, it allows us to get our foot in the liturgical door, so to speak. Better an altar that can be used from both sides than one that can only be used versus populum. Brick by brick, as they say.Regarding the columns, the church designer will be able to speak to this better than I will, but many early Christian churches have that sort of size/arrangement of pillars. Later Romanesque and Renaissance models refined this to what you are thinking of, but it is not without precedent.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr Longenecker

    Resilient Tusconian. You need to update your internet browser. Try using Firefox. That will solve the problem

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15192253252072145833 Authentic Bioethics

    Thanks, Father, you are so right. But it's also a bioethical concern! Bioethics concerns human bodily health, but the ultimate good of the body is the resurrection, so the welfare of the soul is of prime interest to bioethics founded on authentic principles. A beautiful church goes a long way in that regard, particularly when there is also a liturgy of commensurate beauty.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11086068884134493993 love the girls

    Mathew writes : "but many early Christian churches have that sort of size/arrangement of pillars. Later Romanesque and Renaissance models refined this to what you are thinking of, but it is not without precedent."No, that is not what I was thinking of. I specifically did not appeal to past architecture, but instead phrased my comment according to what is seen and felt in your rendering.I am not a slave to the past, although I first look to past architectural patterns just as I first look to St. Thomas on any issue theological, because I trust them to have considered the issues well.But your church is not built in the past, nor is it built for those who lived a millennium ago. The cultural memory is not the same.The design's harkening back to past ages is useful because of what it does signify, but that doesn't preclude modern intuited feel for loads which are typically overdone because it feels wrong otherwise.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07592851515207841008 Christina

    It is very beautiful! It is very exciting to see new churches getting built which are beautiful. It is very frustrating to hear arguments of "give money to the poor", especially when the person saying it does little for the poor himself. Would an appropriate response be "You become the biggest private charitable organization in the world and then show me how to better spend the money."Fact is, ugly churches are very uninspiring and depressing. They don't lift our eyes to God but focus our eyes on the bleakness and emptiness of sin.Anyway, although I'm not an architect, can I kibitz? I think I agree with "love the girls" about the columns on aesthetic grounds. They look like cinder blocks on top of spindles and are a bit awkward. It also arrests the wonderful lifting effect of the rest of the design.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11086068884134493993 love the girls

    Cristina writes : "although I'm not an architect, can I kibitz? "Of course you can. Absolutely.Designs are not for architects, but for those who use them.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr Longenecker

    Love the girls–these are not cosmetic pillars with the load being borne by an invisible steel frame. The pillars you see in the rendering will be load bearing pillars in a solid masonry wall. The physics of that fact should make them the right size and shape…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04611694996611765479 Evagrius Ponticus

    Jackson K. Eskew: "What a shame. Will this Conciliar nonsense ever end? While the business about the good, the true, and the beautiful is quite fashionable among Conciliarists, the hard truth is that truth is often quite ugly and brutal, the good is often hidden in ugliness, and the beautiful isn't always true or good. Let's grow up. Let's abandon this kind of wretched sentimentality."The ability to celebrate versus populum is written into the 1570 Missal of Pius V. But no doubt he was conciliarist modernist. Like the architect of Old St Peter's Basilica. Or St Paul-without-the-Walls. Or San Clemente. Or the dozens of other churches in Rome built on a West-East axis, requiring the priest, in order to face the East, to celebrate facing the people.On the Church: beautiful! I have only two criticisms/comments: first, I find the top of the baldachin a little elaborate and gothic for my taste, and second, that I think a rood screen in the style of Old St Peter's would be preferable to an altar rail (though with a lower bottom part than the rood in Old St Peter's, so that the Faithful can communicate kneeling).On statues: just please ensure they aren't of the doe-eyed 19th Century, 'Passionist portrait' style. It wouldn't fit the style of the church, nor would they befit an altar. Italianate iconography would seem most fitting, while the walls would, I think, look best if given over to pictorial mosaics of the saints, Fathers, &c.;, according to the period of the style. Just my opinion, anyway. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr Longenecker

    Evagrius, eventually I will post some examples of the stained glass windows we hope to purchase as well as the Romanesque-style images of the Blessed Mother, St Joseph and a crucifix.I agree that it would be nice to have mosaics or frescoes, but one of the reasons we chose Romanesque was that the building itself would be beautiful and simple and more ornamentation and art could be added later.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11086068884134493993 love the girls

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16142633311407145793 Wine in the Water

    It is a lovely design. You've made a really good choice with your team.I particularly appreciate that the design doesn't put a pulpit in the sanctuary with the altar. I think that's one of the biggest problems we've encountered in church design in the last 50 years. Along those lines, I think it would be worth the time to study the tradition of ambos. Coming from the Eastern tradition, Mr. Gould may not have as much of an intimate knowledge of its nature and place in the Roman tradition. It's hard to see in the rendering, but it looks like what you have is well on its way.I like that there's a ciborium, but I hope that the designers pay special attention to it and give it extra design attention. I've found that ciboria in chapels and parish churches often fall short. The dimensions of a parish church can often pose challenges to an architectural element that was formed largely in the context of the spaciousness of cathedrals. It is easy for the altar to get lost or overwhelmed by the ciborium and it can proved difficult to allow for sufficient and appropriate room for the liturgical action when those columns are incorporated into the plan.Finally, I think you are wise to begin with a beautiful design and simply plan to fill in artwork as you go. We live in a plain era, and a church with all the art in place could be overwhelming. It also denies the community over the decades to contribute to the art, giving a sense of history to the interior.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18171491573514489497 Dr. Evangelicus

    Or should church buildings be austere and basic, to remind us that this world is not our home?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr Longenecker

    They should be glorious and beautiful in order to remind us that this world is not our home.The church, you see, is meant to be the threshold of heaven where we participate here on earth in the liturgy and worship of heaven.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09561070172039384888 Barb Bathon

    These pictures are beautiful. It will be a wonderful asset to Greenville's Roman Catholic community!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16142633311407145793 Wine in the Water

    On a completely different note, has the team started considering mechanical systems? I know it's pretty early, but some of them can have design impact. So, for more utterly unsolicited feedback: ;)Considering that Catholic churches are meant to be built for the centuries, reducing operational costs is one way to make the building more affordable for the community long-term (even if it can possibly raise up-front costs). I know you are in a humid climate, but a radiant system paired with a dedicated humidity control system could really lower operational costs and greater comfort over an air-based system, especially in that masonry construction. Alternately, a ground-source heat pump tied to an air-based HVAC system can dramatically reduce operational costs over traditional heating and cooling plants for air-based systems. These kinds of up-front investments can make a huge difference in what the building will cost the community over its life.The lighting approach has real character to it. One way to save a lot of energy is to look at how you light for different uses. Daily private devotional time is different from typical worship is different from special occasions like weddings are different from maintenance, cleaning and set-up. Trying to serve these very different light level needs with one set of lights can lead to using more light than you need all the time. Layered systems allow for just the right amount of light to be used without waste. It also allows the variability that our cycle of liturgical life requires. Check out “Interior Lighting Systems for Historic Churches” by Viggo Rambusch.The ceiling provides a great opportunity for a double shell (a space between the ceiling and the roof. This leaves lots of room for insulation, but more importantly leaves access to all the accoutrements hung from the ceiling. This means that lighting systems, ductwork, PA systems, etc. can all be repaired/replaced/rewired/etc. easily without the need for the invasive process of opening up the ceiling.Along the same lines of longevity, it makes sense to run wires through conduits and chases in those masonry walls. It allows for much easier upgrade and repair without all of those surface-mounted conduits seen in so many historic churches or major plaster- and brick-work.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16142633311407145793 Wine in the Water

    Oh, one last note: I would say no to rood screens, chancel screens, chancel walls etc. There are some beautiful examples out there, but I don't think they really should be included in new churches, at least not parish churches (not that they should be torn out when they exist). Altar rails, rood beams and the like create a good transition to the chancel and sanctuary without cutting the faithful off from the sacrificial action. There is a tension between bringing the sacrificial action as close to the faithful as possible and still delineating the sanctuary as a holy precinct. I think the design you have balances those two quite well and a screen or wall would upset that.Thanks for sharing this with us and for putting up with all of us arm-chair architects.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12594214770417497135 Suburbanbanshee

    onRe: the true, the good, and the beautiful — It's not sentimentality. It's Greek philosophy inspired by God, and hence found worthy to be quoted in an inspired book of the Bible. If you're Jewish, you will probably find that it's also foreshadowed in some of the very early Jewish parts of the Bible, which is why philosophical Jews found it a reasonable thing to believe.Truth is not brutal, though you can have truth plus brutality in the same mouth. Goodness is not ugly, although beauty is sometimes found surrounded by ugliness or in association with it; and ugliness can be made beautiful to the extent that it is filled with goodness. Beautiful things are true and good to the extent that they are beautiful, though sometimes not much more! :)The point here is that, the closer you approach God, the more true and beautiful and good things will become. Sometimes this requires discernment to perceive, as with the Crucifixion, but that doesn't make it irrelevant or false.More to the point, churches are supposed to be little cosmological models of Heaven, because God does come there and dwell there (although it's also okay to put in all of Creation, as the Temple did, to represent God's sovereignty and creativity). If you really want to build an ugly Heaven, that's blasphemous. (If you just don't have good taste or the ability to do anything beautiful at all, that's sad but at least not blasphemous.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08084601433869540062 Steve C

    Will the alter rails be reinstalled too?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr Longenecker

    Steve if you look closely you will see altar rails

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18171491573514489497 Dr. Evangelicus

    "The church, you see, is meant to be the threshold of heaven where we participate here on earth in the liturgy and worship of heaven."The church to which you refer, in which we participate on earth as a foretaste of heaven, is the people of God, not lifeless bricks and mortar.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr Longenecker

    Dr E, we build beautiful churches because the Body of Christ is the Church and because he is beautiful and because he makes us beautiful as we are conformed to his image. Why be so negative and sour about a beautiful church? We believe that the beautiful church speaks not only of the beauty of heaven, but reflects the beauty of the Body of Christ–which is the Church–and therefore the beauty of the Body of Christ–which is also the fellowship of all those who are baptized and have faith in Christ.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04052994394637199040 JP

    Absolutely Father, a beautiful church even if it is not Baroque. Anytime anyone says anything against building grand, beautiful churches or anything beautiful for a church such as a pipe organ, I am always reminded of the Gospel when Judas was crying about the expensive ointment not being sold for the poor because it was used on Jesus himself. As I recall Judas was in charge of the purse and was stealing from it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04611694996611765479 Evagrius Ponticus

    Fr.: Sorry for the delay in replying. I didn't mean to imply the Church was not beautiful without mosaics! They can, of course, be added later as money allows or aesthetic concerns dictate. Might I ask what the floor will look like?Wine in the Water:"I think the design you have balances those two quite well and a screen or wall would upset that."WitW, I fear you have a slight misunderstanding. The sort of Rood to which I referred is not the York Minster style – effectively, a wall – but that of the Old St Peter's, which is effectively an altar rail with the a series of pillars on top of it, supporting a pediment on which the cross stands. The best example of the sort I mean is the rood screen in St Mark's in Venice.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18171491573514489497 Dr. Evangelicus

    I think sometimes all this talk of beauty is truth and truth is beauty can be just an excuse for wanting to spend a lot of money on a beautiful building, money that could be used in other ways. Anyone objecting to this always has the alabaster jar flung in their faces. Of course, spending it on expensive bricks and mortar is spending it on *ourselves* not on Jesus at all. Jesus has the beauty of the Holy Trinity and of the Church Triumphant and Church Militant constantly before his eyes and prefers beautiful disciples to beautiful bricks.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04611694996611765479 Evagrius Ponticus

    Dr. Evangelicus, your point is not without merit in terms of the point that beauty can glorify man rather than God (a danger, I feel, particularly present in all those ghastly baroque basilicas).However, it must be said that it appears to be an argument running against the mens of the Church, pre-and-post Conciliar, pre-and-post Reformation, and indeed, pre-and-post Schism. In short, you are arguing against the faith that has been handed down from, if not the time of the Apostles, certainly the time of the Undivided Church and the Fathers who gave us our understanding of the Trinity and the natures of Christ.The biggest problem with your post, however, I think, is that you have stated rather than argued your point. I think a rejoinder to your argument that we build beautiful Churches for ourselves is that a beautiful church glorifies God, not man. "Two cities have been formed by two loves…", and all that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16142633311407145793 Wine in the Water

    Dr. Evangelicus,I think you are may be oversimplifying and falling into the fallacy of the false dichotomy. There is always something else we could be spending the money on. Why are we spending money to educate when there are people with no homes. Why are we spending money on housing when the sick are dying? We are we spending money on medical care when people are starving?You are right, sometimes beautiful Churches are built for selfish reasons. But then the selfish reasons are the problem, not the beautiful Churches. And we have to remember just what a beautiful church provides:It provides an oasis of beauty in a world that can be unrelentingly ugly.It provides art to people who cannot afford art, or even the admission to a museum.It provides catechesis: teaching through its art, but also by teaching the importance of what happens at the mass by demonstrating the attention given to housing the mass.It provides a sanctuary of holiness and peace in a chaotic and profane world.It provides an icon of Christ and proclaims the value of Christ in the community.The poor who need to be fed, housed, clothed and educated need these things too. I think we have to take a step back and realize that a church is, for many people, the only place they can get those things. Only those of us in a rather privileged place, who can afford those things on our own, tend to miss the reality of the way a beautiful church "feeds" the poor.And we should not forget that the materially impoverished are only part of our concern. There are the spiritually impoverished as well. A beautiful church feeds them as well.Beautiful does not mean extravagant. And ironically, if you look at the scores of ugly catholic churches out there, you'll find that they often come in the same price range as a beautiful one. It's astounding how much ugly, and how much cheap, cost.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18171491573514489497 Dr. Evangelicus

    "In short, you are arguing against the faith that has been handed down from, if not the time of the Apostles, certainly the time of the Undivided Church and the Fathers who gave us our understanding of the Trinity and the natures of Christ."I'm arguing against no such thing. I'm pointing out that the human heart is deceptive and we can sometimes come up with all kinds of pious-sounding excuses just to go and do what we wanted to do in the first place.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18171491573514489497 Dr. Evangelicus

    To Wine in the Water:Yes, I agree with the points you're making. I just think that those who choose not to have ornate buildings are no lesser than those who do. Simplicity is a virtue in architecture no less than in other things. In the end, we know that Jesus is happier when we give the proverbial cup of cold water than when we build the most ornate amphitheatre.


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