"They don't make 'em like that anymore…" UPDATED

Settling in for Evening Prayer at Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome

Visiting Rome’s splendid, often ancient, churches, my husband and, who attend newish, barely-decorated, kind-of-ugly churches that are heavy on the felt banners, had not realized how much we’d been missing beauty in our worship: decorative touches with meaning, a designer’s thought for the physical surroundings of our mystical worship. “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore,” was an undercurrent of our appreciation.

No, they don’t. Costs are prohibitive, tastes have changed and craftsmen and artisans specialize in different modes.

They make not make ‘em like “that” anymore, but the new chapels of two religious communities give hope that perhaps the idea of beauty-in-worship is being reclaimed:

In Arizona, the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration of Our Lady of Solitude Monastery write: Each step of this journey has been STEEPED in prayer – as is evident in the final product which is more beautiful than we dared to dream. . . . We are still several months away from being able to have the Chapel consecrated (will keep you up to date on that) – as we await the completion of the pews and a few other interior appointments. But those months will fly by.

I found the video more enjoyable, and the work easier to concentrate on, with the sound off:

More pictures here.

Meanwhile, the Franciscan Sisters of the Penance of the Sorrowful Mother have had their chapel consecrated. These sisters are active/contemplative and like the Arizona nuns, they have been engaged in building a whole convent/chapel compound, which is finally finished. I like their video very much; a church dedication and altar anointing is a rare blessing to attend. I admit, when I saw the incense burning, I got chills. It is all so very ancient and biblical, in the midst of everything new. Got chills again, at the arrival of the bridegroom.

O/T but another great video: Rocco Palmo sums up the UK Papal Visit

Over at Inside Catholic, Margaret Cabaniss notes that picking on the ugly churches is too easy and invites discussion of what’s pretty out there? If you know of beautiful churches going up or being redone, let her know!

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • NanB

    Felt banners…yuck! I hope there will be a resurgence of sacred art and beautifully decorated churches. Some of our Catholic churches look more Protestant than Catholic.

  • Paul Burnell

    Thanks for this posting Anchoress, over here in the UK most of our historic churches were pinched during the Reformation and a some of our most beautiful 19th century churches have been closed by our short-sighted bishops. We too have the post Vatican II Walmart look which prompted one priest to say, “Well done lads Cromwell would have been proud of you”.

  • http://www.notstrictlyspiritual.blogspot.com Mary DeTurris Poust

    Beautiful! Thank you for sharing these video clips. As well as the photo of Santa Maria in Trastevere — my favorite church in Rome (outside St. Peter’s, of course).

    [It was my fave, also, outside of St. Peter's, although I did love Maria Maggiore, too, Maria in Trastevere had an intimacy to it, and it was a delightful surprise. Also, I suppose the fact that it is more of a working neighborhood church than a tourist destination - it had a feeling of deep prayer to it! -admin]

  • http://www.zazzle.com/shanasfo shana

    The Franciscan Sisters of Penance of the Sorrowful Mother’s convent is not far from where I live, and I see them frequently when I’m out and about.

    One of the most beautiful things about this community is their almost overwhelming charism of joy and peace. Whenever I have stopped them to ask for serious, immediate prayer requests, they have always, every one, responded by taking my hand and praying for that need right there and that prayer sends the most delicous peace into the anxiety, and then promising the prayer of the rest of the community. And when I greet any of them they are always radiating such joy that one cannot help but smile and carry some of that joy home.

    Their chapel really captures the simplicity of the Franciscan life, but it is truly beautiful, too.

  • Elizajane

    I was at Visitation church in Kansas City MO this weekend, remodeled a few years ago. It was beautiful before, and is beautiful now. But what the bleep were they thinking putting naked cherub/angel things on the altar?????? Who on God’s green earth thinks naked cherubs belong on anything other than a drug store valentine card?

  • Brian

    I have returned to the Church after almost 50 years away. Aside from the USCCB, I think I am most put off by the sterility of the modern churches. I truly miss the beautiful art generated by faithful artisans. Perhaps the Church will undergo a return to tradition, solemnity and beauty.

  • Joe Odegaard

    They don’t make them like that anymore. But they could very well again. There are plenty of cathedrals still to finish.

  • Irenaeus

    “Rocco Palma”

    I think it’s actually “Palmo”.

    [A typo, thanks for the headsup. I inserted that while working on something else. -admin]

  • http://mysite.verizon.net Doctor Victoria A. Howard, Anchoress

    As long as the church I go to is gloriously beautiful, I don’t mind living in the tenement-like apartment that I do. I would want all the churches I visit to be resplendent in pulchritude, because the Lord lives there. He deserves nothing less.

  • http://timhollingworth.blogspot.com Tim H

    But they do make them like that…


    Click into the photo gallery.

    I know people in Atlanta who have gone to St. Louis for vacation just to visit the Cathedral.


  • http://timhollingworth.blogspot.com Tim H

    Sorry, meant to say the online tour, not the photo gallery.



  • Chris

    Check out the Cathedral in St. Louis, it has a lot of the features of the old church’s in Rome and St. Marks in Venice. You can click on a virutal tour of it.

  • http://wademichaelstonge.blogspot.com Wade St. Onge

    It breaks my heart every time I see a new church being constructed in the modern form or when I walk into a newly-built church with modern architecture. I think to myself, “with all the money that was raised for this, we had the opportunity and the potential to make something beautiful”.

    A new cathedral is going up here, and only the frame is up. And every time I drive by it, my heart sinks. I can almost see what it will look like, and I think 25 million could have been put towards something truly magnificent.

  • http://wademichaelstonge.blogspot.com Wade St. Onge

    Actually, I was in “Santa Maria in Trastevere” (I stayed in a convent in the Trastevere area) when I traveled to Rome in 2006. Actually, my blog and google profile picture is of me in St. Peter’s basilica. You can see the Holy Spirit above shining down his rays of love and light upon me :)

  • kelleyb

    Welcome Home, Brian. God bless you.

  • Marsha Livingston

    The Arizona convent’s chapel WILL be beautiful — but it forces me to ask the question — why “illustrate” it with UGLY “music”?

  • Joseph

    The chapel at Thomas Aquinas College, finished only last year, is very beautiful.

    Man, I want to go back to Rome!

  • bt

    Don’t forget the Sagrada Família cathedral (google it) in Barcelona, Spain. It’s been under construction for decades. Things of beauty take a lot of time to build. Some of the older churches and cathedrals in the U.S. had sponsors for different parts of the church such as the stained glass windows. Sometimes you will see a families name at the bottom of the window. With time and patience, a church of beauty can be built. The money doesn’t have to be raised and spent all at once, but can be raised and spent more slowly to allow for a much broader plan.

  • Joseph

    Also, went to the Margaret Cabaniss link – She lists the Thomas Aquinas College chapel first (we have a son there) and the Dominican sister’s chapel in Nashville second (I have a sister-n-law in that community, who is also a Thomas Aquinas grad).

    Doesn’t quite make up for the various hideous parish churches we’re stuck with, but it’s nice knowing somebody’s doing it right.

  • Mary

    Dear Anchoress.
    I am a convert and I think a part of what led me to the Catholic Church was a visit to Italy. At our first stop, we saw the magnificent Assumption of the Virgin by Titian in the Firari Church in Venice. To see such a beautiful work in its original setting, as intended by the artist, was an overwhelming experience. When a few years later, our catechist was amazed at my lack of resistance to this dogma, I am sure the beauty of the artist’s vision had helped pave the way for understanding!!

  • Momma Kyle

    These churchs are lovely and were built, often by peasants in the middle ages. People went without to give something beautiful to God.

    I worry about a culture that builds mansions for ourselves to live in and warehouses for God.

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  • Bill

    The Basilica of the Sacred Heart, built in the 1870s, on the Notre Dame University campus is beautiful. It was restored in the 1980s.

    The Duomo in Florence (The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore) is gorgeous. Michelangelo reportedly said he could not design a more beautiful dome.

    St. Bartholomew in Columbus, Indiana, is one that traditionalists might not like. I visited it a few years ago and consider it beautiful. View it on Google Earth, from the outside, and it resembles a nautilus.

  • bt

    St. Thomas church in Coeur D Alene, Idaho is really beautiful inside. Also, the cathedral in Helena, Montana is quite beautiful. The stained glass windows are breathtaking. If you are ever in Helena, visit the cathedral!

    I wonder if making a church beautiful might be compared to the woman who annointed Jesus’ feet?

  • http://vita-nostra-in-ecclesia.blogspot.com Bender

    You know what I would like to see? Like maybe even once here in the U.S.?

    A cloister. The one at St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, for example, is quite beautiful.

  • Jeanne

    I worry about a culture that builds mansions for ourselves to live in and warehouses for God.

    I agree with Momma Kyle!
    We worship in what my kids call “the spaceship church”…

    I believe the Cleer Creek Benedictines have made quite a bit of progress on their chapel.

  • UrbanRevival

    I highly recommend the book “Ugly as Sin” by Michael Rose.

    He tackles the “theology of the building” and why the ancient beauty is so important to our faith.

  • cathyf

    Just a personal thing that I have come to know about myself…

    Over the last 20 years I have been in 3 parishes. In the first, the church is magnificent, and the music outstanding. The second church is butt ugly, and the music fabulous. My current church is beautiful, and the music is perfunctory.

    I’ll take a butt ugly church over bad music. Visually ugly is not edifying, but musically ugly is spiritually corrosive…

  • http://happyentanglements.blogspot.com Mark G.

    St. John Neumann in Farragut, Tennessee is a gorgeous, new Catholic Church near Knoxville.


    Click on “Our Romanesque Church Building.” Be sure to click the little links to see the stained glass windows!

  • Doc

    I’ll second Joseph’s recommendation of the TAC chapel, where I walked my daughter down the aisle this past Spring. Stunningly beautiful. My brother couldn’t believe it was recently completed.

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  • BE

    The music for that video has St. Clare WRITHING in her grave (or in heaven, to be more precise). Some of the statuary faces are a bit vapid and cute.