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church interior

I was recently at a conference held in Knox College, Dunedin. This is where Presbyterian clergy are trained [Yes – aside to Kiwi Anglicans: Presbyterians and other denominations still have a clear process for training their clergy. Apparently, there is nothing intrinsically against clear training and formation in this age. Surprise!]

The image above is of the Knox chapel. The services we held here gave that experience of being “in the round”. God is beyond us. And between us.

I recently watched the amazing movie, Of Gods And Men. The monastic tradition (which the Knox chapel embodies) is obviously focused on God in transcendence. But the monks as they bow in reverence to the transcendent God nearly touch each other as they face each other. Christianity holds transcendence and immanence together. At one of the most moving points in the movie the monks move and join up, embracing each other in a semicircle facing the altar as they continue to sing and pray as a helicopter hovers outside and the reality of the threat to their lives sinks deeper.

Community and transcendence are not opposed to each other. They need to and can be held together. And they can be held together architecturally.

Christchurch is being given an opportunity to embody this vision. I fear we may miss the chance. The Anglican church has constantly been using the word “rebuild” which most people hear as “replicate”. The images on the draft Christchurch post-earthquake plan has a new city built around a replica of the 19th century Anglican cathedral. I wasn’t surprised when that was revealed.

New church buildings, IMO, should start not with the outside shape, but with the shape inside – and then work out what most interestingly/dramatically covers the church interior layout.

What do you think? Have you got examples of great interior layouts? Have you also got examples of good renewed interiors inside inherited exteriors?

source of above Cathedral Square plan

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13 thoughts on “church interior”

  1. Hermano David | Brother Dah•veed

    Have you also got examples of good renewed interiors inside inherited exteriors?

    Your question brought St Paul’s Chapel* NYC, NY, USA to mind. It withstood a different sort of tragedy than Christchurch’s cathedral because it stands literally in the shadow of the World Trade Center site and only survived 11 SEP 2001 because an old tree in the church yard gave its life and saved it**.

    This excellent slideshow tells the story;

    *St Paul’s Chapel is a second building that is part of the Trinity Wall Street parish. Trinity Wall Street was also effected by the 9-11 tragedy. It lost an historic organ, as did St Paul’s, that was going to require millions of dollars to replace. But even the world’s richest Episcopal/Anglican parish is mindful of financial stewardship, and so there is another story about how they are replacing their organs.

    ** Which is yet another story of something rising from 9-11’s ashes;

    1. Thanks, Claudia, I think what you say is very helpful. In the case of Christchurch we do need to think of strategically placing contemporary church buildings around a renewed city. Revitalising, I hope, like you do, will be part of that. Blessings.

  2. The wonderfully created liturgical space in the new Parramatta RC Saint Patrick’s Cathedral is well worth a look. The original cathedral was badly damaged by fire; now the beautifully restored (not reinstated – good distinction) original building serves as a chapel, while the new church is designed as a gathering place for liturgy. It is a great diocesan, parish and community space. Get a cheap Qantas/Air NZ/Jetstar airfare and come on over and have a look!

      1. Yes, that is the site, Bosco. It is a pity there isn’t a floor-plan of the complete complex of buildings and linking walkways. Being in the spaces themselves is far better than just seeing the pictures. Perhaps some of the Chch dio insurance money would be well spent on a fact-finding tour.

  3. I don’t know the history of its spatial construction, but I think St. James (Catholic) Cathedral in Seattle makes outstanding use of its space. http://www.stjames-cathedral.org/Tour/ is a link to its virtual tour. What I don’t think the pictures make clear (although text is) is how the chairs at the intersections are used.

    One is used for the readings (not really a chair), one is the presider’s chair, one is the cathedra, and the other is where the cantor stands. Everyone occupying these places seems to more connect one arm of the space with the next (therefor being among/from the people while still set apart for leadership) rather than off on their own.

    They also work the space amazingly well on Sunday mornings. Not as a show, but as a really good liturgy.

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