Bert Olivier
Bert Olivier

For the love of church architecture

Visiting a city as old and history-rich as Prague is indescribably rewarding for an architecture lover because the history of western architecture from the early Middle Ages until the 20th century is graphically inscribed in its urban texture. Romanesque architecture stands side by side with Gothic, baroque and even — incongruously, when it comes to church architecture — modernist design.

It’s hard to choose among the many churches if one is not guided by what Gaston Bachelard called one’s “oneiric” building — the dream building that every person has in their unconscious, usually a kind of oneiric house, which serves as a touchstone for judging whether one likes a building or not. For me it does not pose a difficulty to know intuitively that I prefer the clean vertical lines of a Gothic cathedral, which bend inwards to shape the vault high above, to the almost unbearable opulence of a baroque church like that of Saint Nicholas in the Little Quarter of Prague.

To enter a Gothic cathedral like Saint Vitus enclosed within the Prague Castle walls — a church that was started in 1344 and only really finished in the early 20th century — is to fall under the spell of that indefinable sense of place imparted by distinctive architecture. Here it is a kind of “place” so qualitatively different from that of recent buildings that one instinctively resorts to a whisper when talking to a friend inside the church. I cannot say that I agree with DH Lawrence, who saw in the characteristic arch of a Gothic cathedral a symbolic closing-off of one’s spirit, fatally restricting it to something created by humans instead of allowing it free passage to soar as it wished.

Standing in St Vitus — or, for that matter, the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn — is precisely to feel your spirit soar, even at a time when the secularism of the age seems to rule out such a possibility. In some of the Gothic churches in Prague — and this is the case in a magnificent cathedral, like that of St Barbara in Kutna Hora — baroque embellishments exist side by side with the authentically Gothic, which may impinge painfully on the sensibilities of architectural purists. As Hans-Georg Gadamer argues in Truth and Method, however, this practice (to integrate later architectural additions with earlier ones) is testimony to a living architectural tradition in contrast to the practice of restoring architecture to a pristine, supposedly “pure” stylistic state.

Something else that strikes us heirs of the modernist sensibility advocated by Adolf Loos in Ornament as Crime, is the unadulterated and unapologetic use of ornament in these pre-modern churches where sculpture and painting combine to flesh out the Christian Weltanschauung undergirding the art and architecture concerned. Small wonder that Walter Gropius called architecture a Gesamtkunstwerk (encompassing or total artwork). In the case of Gothic and baroque architecture all the arts combine to present a composite image of reality as understood before it waned under the impact of the historical Enlightenment.

In fact as meticulously traced by Karsten Harries in his marvellous architectural study The Bavarian Rococo Church the unified pre-modern Christian understanding of the world yielded only step-by-step to the rationalism of the Enlightenment and its concomitant “modern” conception of “art for art’s sake”. Harries’ scrupulous interpretive analysis of Bavarian churches demonstrates how, what initially functioned as ornament in the strict sense of figural elements bearing metaphysical meaning, eventually became decorative elements free from such ontologically mediating function.

The churches of Prague are still pre-modern in this respect. And when I look at the weightless angels and saints hovering above the altars and crypts in these delightful buildings I cannot help think that although I would not want to return to a state of such beguilement, the fact that humanity and the world have been thoroughly disenchanted also means that we have lost something valuable. To be more precise, when the world was still bathed in the light of a belief in something intrinsically valuable, perhaps it would have been less likely for human beings to visit destruction on it as easily as it happens today.

There is one incongruity, albeit a charming one, regarding the juxtaposition of architectural features of different period and stylistic provenance. In 1965 the church of the 14th-century Slavonic monastery of Emauzy was given two concrete spires in distinctly modernist idiom by FM Cerny. And although these spires rise elegantly above surrounding buildings as seen from the Little Quarter on the other side of the Vltava River, one cannot help noticing that it constitutes a concrete oxymoron: modernity is predicated on the rejection of otherworldly beliefs, in the place of which it installed a trust in reason and technology. Here one witnesses an uneasy synthesis of the two mutually exclusive Weltanschauungen.

One could write a number of books on just the church architecture in Prague. Apart from the similarities and differences between churches of the same, or of different periods, there are the Jewish synagogues too, mainly in Prague’s Jewish Quarter, of which the Spanish synagogue is probably the most beautiful. But in a short post like this one, one simply has to acknowledge other types of architecture, too, foremost among them the large number of charming apartment blocks, especially those with the greatest variety of art deco facades. There is even a block of apartments in cubist style, believe it or not! My partner, who is an avid photographer, just could not stop taking pictures of these apartment blocks, nor of buildings like the beautiful Dancing House — probably the most distinctive modernist architecture post the Velvet Revolution — and the majestic late 19th century National Theatre.

The fact that the National Theatre is flanked by the modernist glass architecture of the Laterna Magika building and the New Stage auditorium, which purists might believe to detract from its imposing presence, adds an enriching historical aspect to the architecture of the theatre district. Though agreement about this will probably never be reached between those who welcome historicising gestures and those who don’t. It belongs in the same category as the glass pyramid at the entrance to the Louvre in Paris, which is a source of never-ending controversy. As for myself I welcome such reminders of the complexity of our architectural and artistic cultural history. For this very reason a visit to Prague produces never a dull moment to anyone who loves art and architecture.

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    • Sasha Botha

      After reading the article on church achitecture, it is evident that individuals react differently to many aspects of this world. As each one of us are different from the other, our likes and dislikes also differ.
      The people of the intuitive realm of human beings are more likely to feel a connection and seek the romance about a certain type of architecture and the particular emotion they find arrises from experiencing those spaces. Where as the more rational beings also rely on emotion, but they would rather gather the statistics of the typology of a certain space.

      Just as everyone one is an individual, we each have a specific need when it comes to viewing and experiencing architecture. Whether it be in a church we you become still and acknowledge God or you are walking through the streets of a European city. Whether being Gothic architecture, modernist architecture or a collective a many types of architecture, the individuals senses are stimulated by a certain emotion they experinece in these spaces. It can not be explained, it can only be experienced.

    • Christiaan van der Spuy

      I personally feel when one is studying religious or sacred architecture, one should remove Modernism and the rationality of the Enlightenment from the table. Having visited the Castle precinct of Prague and other cities characterised by Modernist and Post-Modernist architecture in Europe, I got a ‘spiritual’ rush when walking through the streets which are defined by Gothic and Baroque architecture – A typical consequence of visiting a pre-modern city.

      The Castle precinct in Prague reminds me of the Acropolis in Athens. It is situated on a hill visible from Charles Bridge where one can see the great vertical qualities of a typical Gothic cathedral. One already seems to appreciate the sacred location of this structure.

      As one enters any Gothic cathedral one would rather agree with the German opera composer Wilhelm Richard Wagner`s conception of ‘Gesamptkunstwerk’, which includes music to the equation. In general, with all the ornaments, vertical height, sense of space and musical delight, one cannot help to feel spiritually enriched by this ‘Gesamptkunstwerk’ – the Cathedral in its totality. One does not have to belong to any specific religion to appreciate the sacredness of such an experience and space.

    • Christiaan van der Spuy

      I also tend to disagree with DH Lawrence. Trying to understand the pre-modern (pre-Enlightenment) mind, it does occur to me that the sharp pointed arch of Gothic cathedrals which occurs at a vast height above the Nave does point to some higher deity high above, which I feel could be appreciated by both deeply religious or Agnostic individuals.

      I feel Modernism should be kept away from religious architecture, not only for the rationality coupled up with the Enlightenment, but it fails to capture a specific sense/quality of space which stimulates certain emotions of human beings.

    • Inke Niit

      Due to each person’s unconscious subjectivity, they experience and perceive historic buildings differently. Because there is so much mysterious life in these characterful buildings, I personally think that history and its historic buildings should be preserved to be experienced and appreciated by future generations. There is various ways of preserving historic buildings (reworking, revival and contrasting). Yet if one considers the time (650 years), attention to detail and the crafted uniqueness ( opposed to modernist mass production) of historic buildings, one discovers its sense of place and identity and realizes the significance and meaning thereof. Thus there is no way to add to the beauty and character of the original buildings since the amount of time and effort spent on it will be far too little.

    • Stefanie Rix (208115140)

      The historic church architecture is marvellous in its detail, structure and especially in the impression it leaves on one’s soul when walking through these buildings. I believe that the architecture of a historic church evokes some sort of amazement in every person who walks through it. Whether it is the soaring of the spirit or just the astonishment of the architecture itself but I am sure that no one walks out of these building without being touched in some way.
      Not many modern building can quite live up to that feeling a historic church evokes. Yes, we are amazed by its ‘wackyness’ or we like the building but we don’t feel it quite as strongly. Modern buildings have so much clarity about them that one loses any emotional amazement. I agree with the article where it says that humanity has been ‘disenchanted’ and has ‘lost something valuable’ in the process. We can be thankful that we can still visit the wonderful historic churches and maybe it is the task of the 21st architect to bring back a new spirit to modern buildings. A spirit that brings back a feeling to buildings that amazes and touches the soul.

    • Robert Mikolaizak 212473859

      When it comes to architecture people have many different opinions. Especially when it comes to modern architecture the opinions of architects and laymen differ. Laymen are often already impressed if a building looks “pretty”. For architects this is not enough we look at the spaces and the effects they create, light and shadow, the interaction of the building and the inside and small details in the construction .
      But when it comes to historic architecture these opinions come back together. As said in the article – “Here it is a kind of “place” so qualitatively different from that of recent buildings that one instinctively resorts to a whisper when talking to a friend inside the church.” – When visiting historic churches you can experience this phenomena, laymen see these churches in a similar way architects do, they experience the effects of the big extremely high central nave, see the lights and shadows and experience the impressive accommodation.
      I think this is one of the reasons why people when visiting foreign cities often go and look at the churches and cathedrals. Their architecture is impressive and often easier to understand what the architect wanted to achieve and what he had in mind while planing the building.

    • Daniela Schwarzkopf 212473883


      Churches are a task that drives architects to excel. I would say, that church architecture is probably a design that is committed to the least of pure form and invites to experiment.
      The term church marks on the one hand the Christian community on the other hand the structure that is used by a religious group for prayer, worship and for religious services. The sacred building as such has always been a special challenge for the builders and architects. One might say that a spiritual feeling for the church architecture was mostly basic and still is. Despite all the piety you must add that even the profane is playing a role.
      If you have a look to the beginning of church architecture to this day you will clearly see the changes of time and the corresponding changes in the design. Probably the very first Christian building is the church of San Stefano Rotondo in Rome, a rotunda, which has only in the roof plan, the shape of a cross. The building looks more like a temple than a traditional church. The design is very simple without any decoration as we know from gothic or more the baroque churches. Over the years the churches floor plan got the shape of a cross, with their central aisle and the transept and steeple at the top; although the tower is no theological reason.

    • Daniela Schwarzkopf 212473883


      Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a German poet describes the changes in church architecture directly connected with the changes of peoples mind and faith.
      “Ancient temples focus the God in man; medieval churches seek God in height.”
      Many people do not associate modern church architecture with the spirit of deity. But why? Is it because the building does not have the same traditional shape? Or is it because peoples belief in god is not as it used to be and/or they need a direction to lead them?
      Maybe one is right when they refuse contemporary architecture. Traditional and old churches for example are quite impressive and have a strong expression; puristic architecture however often feels cold and denying as there is mostly no decoration at all. But it mustn’t compulsory be the same from the inside. I think the architects (Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen) of rock church (Temppeliaukio Church) in Helsinki did a good job. The use with the different material and the use of natural light create an amazing spirit in the inside. As well as the “Herz-Jesu” church in Munich, Germany. From the outside it’s just a glass cubic, but if you are in the inside the use of that blue glass generates a lovely spirit and if you have a closer look you find many details, that are elaborated very precise.

    • Daniela Schwarzkopf 212473883


      I would say there is many well done modern sacred architecture if you look at it as a whole. I think it’s important to create an interaction between the outside and the inside, as well as the use of material and light to achieve that spiritual feeling, what makes such a building unique.
      The future of church architecture is hidden in the fog. It probably would have to be met by the deeper sense of the word “religious“ that includes “for everyone”. Prerequisite for this new spirit is reinventing the tension between the profane and the sacred again.

    • Alex Linde 208023966

      I have to admit that church architecture has been some of the most influential in my life. Long before I even considered being an architect I was captivated by how a building could touch the soul. I have been fortunate enough to do a bit of travelling with my family. Right from our first trip overseas church and religious architecture caught my eye.
      I have not had the opportunity to go to Prague or the truly religious capitals but from what I have experienced I can relate completely with this article. When you enter these grand churches you cannot help feeling insignificant and yet comforted by the sense of belonging. As a child who grew up in church, travelling allowed me to expand my spiritual experience and find what religion is to me. In South Africa we are so used to a hall or a small cathedral where that sense of awe is just not felt.
      We learn that Gothic churches were created in such a way for the common, uneducated man to be awe-inspired. When I was 15, I went in to Notre dame and experienced this first hand. The architecture truly highlighted and articulated the sense of power and awe of God. I walked in and immediately sat in a pew, speechless. I knew nothing about architecture but still my spirit was evoked.
      I have to agree that the sense of enchantment and belief is lost on modern society and this is sad. We as humans need to believe we have a purpose and there is meaning to life. I’m not suggesting that a Gothic church could save this but buildings with a…

    • Alex Linde 208023966

      I’m not suggesting that a Gothic church could save this but buildings with a greater essence of meaning should be developed and introduced.

    • Stefan du Plessis S208090017

      I think one of the reasons why so much attention and effort went into the crafting and detailing of the cathedrals was because of society’s submission under the church authority and sculpture being such an important part of the arts at the time. It gives us an understanding of the emphasis they placed on -and the importance of religion as a catalyst for unity in society through building these cathedrals as landmarks and shrines. There was obviously a lot of emphasis on simbolism like the cruciform plan, the use of light and the scenes depicted in the ornamentation and decoration on the cathedrals. The effective use of scale and clerestory light take one from a feeling of smallness in proportion to the heavens to the intimate and private dark spaces for a personal connection with God and one’s inner being.

    • Deirdre Kohler

      So do you think that the main cathedral in Christchurch New Zealand, which was damaged during the earthquakes should be demolished as some propose? Ironically it is closely linked to the name of the city and what will that mean!?

    • http://nmmu yusha ebrahim s208092099

      In terms of highlighting the various attributes and characteristics linking to these various churches, one can only be limited in expressing certain aspects and attributes to theses spaces if one hasn’t been. It is in this as a practising a Muslim one could relate to similar understandings and aspects relating to mosques. A typical example would be that of the Holy Mosque of Mecca and the Prophets Mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia. In terms of the Holy Mosque of Mecca the progression is different to that of gothic churches where in DH Lawrence highlights the aspect of a ,”closing-off of one’s spirit, instead of allowing it free passage to soar as it wished.” It’s in this understanding that one realises the approach of the Holy Mosque, in that it creates a symbolic connection to a higher deity by creating a spatial quality that connects one directly to the sky. Similarly the relationship and understanding of these fundamentals can be directed to that of the Gothic and various other churches.

    • Jonathan Mac Lachlan (205042392) 01 of 02

      The word church is used quite often here and seems to be the core of the article, thus I would like to expand on this line of thought. When using the word “church”, I would like to believe that the majority of people would make reference to religious text as an anchor for literary instrument. Based on this, let us examine the foresaid. The article seemingly refers to the word “church” as a building. Secular mainstream might approve this line of thought, however considering the religious gospel, the church is considered to be “the people”. Thus the heading should be “for the love of “the peoples” architecture.

      Based on this line of thought we should consider or even criticize the influence of various “styles” of architecture birthing the formation of secular mainstream church architecture. One should not forget that the majority of the mentioned styles were birthed under monarchy or city states where the church leaders and priests governed cities, towns and its people. Thus individual expressionism was no option. This can be referenced to the Bible for example when speaking about temples. Again they were birthed by Priests and Pharisees and not by the people, nor and more importantly the by love of the people.

    • Jonathan Mac Lachlan (205042392) 02 of 02

      It is only now in retrospect of a society freed by tradition or perhaps with a more regulated view, that we can retrospectively review “church architecture” and begin to “love” it, and this only by virtue of historical romanticism, cultural influence and secular tradition.

      It is important to remember that the very term “Gothic Architecture”, was given as derogatory term or label at the time by contemporary critics who thought the style barbaric in its expression.

      I wonder if the “church” buildings considered in this article were considered in their own time as anything different than decorated institutional buildings created by powerful leaders expressing their influence, as we find in the world today?

    • Yaw Boateng 203006178 -part1

      From reading the article, I cannot help but ask myself, what role the church played in society during the Middle Ages and what role is it playing today in our society. I believe this is possibly the key to the change.There is a clear difference in church architecture of the past in comparison to that of today. I believe the evolution of the church typology, from the Middle Ages to the 20th Century, are a reflection of available technology and the position of the church in society at that point in time.

      People in the middle ages believed their souls were the most important things they had and that true religion was the only way to save them. The church served to give people spiritual guidance and served as their government as well.It capitalised on this and became a leading landowner and one of the wealthiest institutions in Europe. This reflects in the architecture being described in the article. The churches were large in scale and rich in architectural detail. Ornamentation that characterised church buildings such carvings and paintings sort to fuse together architecture and art. As already alluded to, this style of architecture reflected the believe system of the past and abundance of material at the time. Architecture seeks to fulfil an objective within the parameters of a set budget.

    • Yaw Boateng 203006178 part2

      Through a timeline reflection of western churches, it is evident that the authority of the church lasted through history, in contrast to the short-lived kingdoms which rose and fell in the Middle Ages. An example is the Catholic Church, it is one of Medieval Europe’s most powerful and enduring institutions. Church architecture in the Middle Ages was about status, technological supremacy and both economic and political power. The large scale and messing of the buildings created a sense of permanence and importance. The buildings were tall or had a high point which was seen in the round and could be spotted anywhere within the city through its visual scale.

      Now, in the 20th Century, the church’s role has diminished, it no longer has the political power it used to have. This has affected the wealth of the church and with the advancement of technology they have both played a significant role in how modern churches are expressed architecturally today. The buildings have become places of worship as appose to being viewed as the house of God on Earth. Modern churches have become about finding adequate spaces for worship, the buildings have become more economical in construction, flexible in use and expression. I believe that good church buildings should be able to capture the feeling of sacredness. Historic churches understood how to achieve this within worship spaces. Proportion and scale were some of the fundamental tools used to achieve this.

    • Yaw Boateng 203006178 part3

      I believe the common link between the old and the new lies within the sacredness of the space of worship.

      Knowledge is built over a period of time. Architecture has therefore gone through a period of growth. Today’s architecture combines the knowledge of the past within modern technology to meet the needs of the present and the co-existence of both modern and old architecture in most cities it offers diversity and beauty.

    • Taryn Keefer

      Upon a visit to Barcelona one has to visit Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, reading your article evoked those feelings I felt upon my visit there, one of serenity and awe, in people’s ability to create something so beautiful and intricate and as mentioned – the human experience of something touching the soul.

      The building has been in construction for over one hundred years and peoples commitment to it sees that process being continued even today. Is it that these people believe in the man and his architecture or in the ability of a place, time and the connection of these to something greater.

      Has modern architecture achieved this? Maybe so, but it is no longer a shrine or temple to our faith or hope in something greater than ourselves but has become a temple to humankinds ability and progress.

    • Matt Wright

      Michelangelo said,
      “My soul can find no staircase to Heaven unless it be through Earth’s loveliness”

      Like what Michelangelo said, I believe that buildings of this nature form part of “Earth’s loveliness”. Regardless of religious connotations that people might have or not have, they are places that allow ones “intuitive realm” (in Sasha’s words) to wonder. I agree that each individual will have his/her notions of the “oneiric building” and they will all differ in one way or another but collectively they create ‘places for experience’.
      In the case of gothic architecture, the play between light and volume create an internal space that seems to fade away (dematerialize). It is an overload on the senses to bring to attention the sacredness of the space.
      In a world that is progressing and advancing, where we are competing for the next best thing, we can easily forget that we are ‘beings’ that need to experience and engage in the “intuitive realm” for spiritual or emotional relief. In an age of constant rational progression it only makes me ‘wonder’ that if we lose these places we might very well turn into machines ourselves.

    • chris rossouw

      This aspect of verticality in pre modern church architecture, that implied reaching up to the heavens, encouraging spiritual flights of the soul, is an interesting one. The churches went upwards, because God is up. But who said God is up in the first place? Of all the directionalities (up, down, left, right, diagonally south south east etc) why was up chosen? I think the answer lies in existential space.

      Existential space refers to space as it relates to human perception. Existential space is not homogenous; in relation to the human body there is: behind, in front (horizontal), above and below (vertical). The horizontal refers to our lived, knowable, physical space and the vertical to mysterious, unknown realms beyond human comprehension! “Depth psychologist James Hillman…explains that in the psyche and dreams, the zone above our heads is that of spiritual aspiration, which is why in traditional buildings it is celebrated in domes, vaults and painted ceilings. To instead put pipes and ducts just above our heads and screen them with the tackiest suspended ceiling tiles is thus the ultimate insult to our fundamental humanity, the starkest sign of how far modern civilisation has lost sight of what should be its ennobling purposes.”

    • Timothy Smith

      Throughout the ages of architecture, there have always been buildings that are constructed to the glorification of a deity in any culture or religion. Humankind has constructed monumental structures of enormous proportions to symbolically represent the habitation of their deity on earth.
      It is interesting to track these expressionist responses to religious culture, in this case tracking the churches of Christianity. As well as the responses that people have to being in these specific religious spaces.
      The spiritual experience within churches may never be unanimous – there will be people who prefer to be in Gothic churches than Baroque churches. It is the sensory spatial experience that one feels in these spaces that connect the people to their faith.
      In this regard, there is no singular expression of architectural space that is appropriate or one that should be implemented throughout the ages. But the space depends on the evocative or emotional response of the people using the space. In modern times, churches today have a less adorned internal space than those of the past, but perhaps it is the serenity and calmness of the space that allow for the juxtaposition to be set up against churches of the Baroque and Gothic that created an “other-worldly” experience.

    • Justin Braithwaite

      Church architecture, apart from fulfilling its primary function as a place of worship, is very useful from a historical perspective.

      All churches are designed as spiritual/sacred places where users can worship and feel spiritually engaged or closer to God. The manifestation of this unchanging objective has differed in many ways over time this means that Churches are not only places of worship but also symbols of the time in which they were conceived and built. As ideas and ways of thinking evolved so did the attitude towards religion.

      Every time a new approach or ‘style’ is adopted it adds on to the already rich heritage of previously established styles. It is up to us, as the most modern and enlightened humans yet, to establish an approach that takes into account the current levels of enlightenment and attitude towards religion and create churches that match these needs without losing the awe inspiring character of the church.

      An example that comes to mind is the modernist cathedral in Brasilia by Oscar Niemeyer (an avid atheist) which seems to be a place for people above all else.

    • Hyacinthe TONGA 208022710

      The article makes me live my past experiences within churches doors in Europe. What one experience in a cathedral like Notre Dame is completely different from one would experience from a modern cathedral such as Le Haut Ronchamp by Le Corbusier.

      When you enter Notre Dame you feel overwhelm, speechless. I would not know how to describe such feeling but one would say you “feel something” = emotion; may relate to it spiritually.

      When now you enter Le Haut Ronchamp, you feel intimidated, it is without doubt that you may have an increadible experience; but such would be categorised as an experience from the play with light achieve by its design, or spaces and its form= more about admiring the structure.

      Now, we know that “the church” stood normally as help to the Christian community, a place to pray, and a supreme power (both politically and economically which still had some emotionally driven design and therefore making people relate to it). With the upcoming of the modern movement we could say without doubt that society observed a shift of power; Governments and Enterprises stood and still do as most important structural systems.

    • Hyacinthe TONGA 208022710

      Men, where and still are fascinated by the new technology behind the modernist buildings; such generating a “wow factor” and would be housing the most powerful political and economical branches and their leaders.

      With such conflict or shift of power, we could safely say that the modernist or the 21st century churches design is and or will strive to regain its position in society; but looking at what is out there or still to come, can we say that those design still relate to people faith? Or is it then purely political?

    • Christopher Rensburg

      The differing varients of architectural styles and forms is inherent to the subjectivity of the topic. Religion’s meaning differs to many, so it is only natural for the sacred spaces where communities gather to worship are as diverse in their designs. Varying architectural tecniques are used in Church Architecture to translate spiritual ideologies and symbolisms.
      Classic examples of Middle Age Church Architecture emphasise the grand soaring edifices. Common themes: The use of height and loftiness to soar and engage the heavens; the incorporation of materials like stone and marble portray an imposing permanence; the use of luxurious and oppulent artefacts and murals; and a disciplined reverance of the alter through the cruciform plan. One gets the sense that in terms of materials and gestures, only the best was good enough for their God.
      While, more modern examples, portray more modest humble spaces for communal worship. There are also contemporary examples of sacred spaces that are more reflective of certain regional ideologies without sacrificing the qualities that embue a spiritual transcendental manifestation through a certain architectural language. In summation, one cannot definitively declare an all encompassing Church Architecture to exist, because the spaces are as varied as the ways in which people engage and experience their spirituality

    • Pieter Muller

      Church architecture over the times tells more than just a story of each cultures religion and there form of worship, it tells us about a journey that humans that exist on this earth experienced. The historical churches and mosques give us in the present day the glimpses into the past world. Historical canvasses telling stories about how religion not only shaped the world, but the importance of the places of worship was to the towns and city’s they were in. They were seen as monumental structures, core to a city, representing wealth and power as well as strong anchors to the religious believes of a city.

      They represent physical manifestations of written history, not only by there manner of construction or location but there facades and the spacial configurations, notions that tells us of the journeys of there town or city. There permanence to this day enlighten us about how architecture is a permanent form of art work -in a way the same as master pieces that are painted telling stories of the old- maybe it is even more accurate to say they represent an important artifact piece to the city, embedded in there walls are the tales of there time.

    • Chesney Boshoff

      What is quite evident in the article, and quite rightly described in the title, is society’s love for and fascination with historical church architecture. Avoiding the argument of the validity of the principles and ethics of the ideologies employed throughout the various styles, church architecture offers great insight into the contextual history of the eras in which they were constructed. These churches, although many still function as churches, have transcended from being mere places of worship to historical artifacts or landmarks of their era. Unfortunately I have not yet had the privilege of visiting Prague, but have been fortunate enough to experience various churches throughout central Europe. The romanticism in cathedrals was most evident to me in the Duomo Milano in Milan, Italy. The construction of the cathedral began in 1386 and was only officially completed in 1965. The cathedral was originally enthusiastically Gothic and went on to be comprised of numerous contrasting styles. The purists again commented and expressed disfavor towards the cathedral with comments such as “from every style in the world: and every style spoiled” John Ruskin. I would agree with Bert Olivier that it is exactly this that offers “reminders of the complexity of our architectural and artistic cultural history”.

    • JP Redona

      I partly agree that modern architecture should be removed as a style for sacred buildings. As Tadoa Ando, a Japanese postmodernist architect, Church of the Light is a great example of how modern materials, reinforced concrete and steel, can produce a space that can uplift the spiritual awareness within oneself.
      The church is made of a singular box where one enters from the west and look easterly, where a cruciform is carved out of the wall and light filters into the space.
      The emptiness of the sold enclosed space in contrast with the light from the cruciform causes an emotional response to one’s deeper feeling and understanding of the spiritual and secular.
      And, although few modern buildings in the world can achieve this emotional connection with space, the art of creating such a space requires critical regionalism to break down and understand the context and not only the building type itself.

    • M van Niekerk

      I personally love the fact that Prague is filled with Baroque, Gothic and Art Nouveau buildings. I can just imagine how magically it must be to walk in the streets of Prague with the timeline of architecture playing next to you (like a good movie) as you walk past different building facades. Observing church architecture by reading the historical beliefs and traditions/rituals from the different architectural styles and decorations, more emotions and memories are evoked. I would guess that jumble of architecture and history creates a rich urban experience for the visitors of Prague.
      I think it would be great if contemporary architecture would express people’s beliefs and way of life, making it more than just a building, but a piece of art that can be observed and influence the people passing by. Form having meaning (other than function) allows for various interpretations and discussions, involving the public in the current architecture and so educating them on contemporary architecture, theories and history.

    • tracy haupt

      1 of 2

      I have not been to Prague yet, but I have been fortunate enough to have done quite a lot of travelling in my life. I have walked through and experienced many historical churches throughout my travels, from the English Baroque style of St Pauls Cathedral in England, to the largest Gothic Catholic Church in the United States, St Patricks Cathedral in New York City, to quite possibly one of the smallest chapels in the world, The Little Chapel in Guernsey/England made entirely of broken pieces of ceramics. Each and every one of these churches dating back in history gave me a sense of enlightenment spiritually and I was in awe of the grandeur of the architecture.

      In the past, the church was very influential and was the centre of every human’s life and soul, giving rise to its power and the need for the church to ‘show-off’ it’s significance through grand architecture. In a sense it became the beacon of the city– rising to the heavens as the city’s land mark, the heart of the city.

    • tracy haupt

      2 of 2…

      Historically, Church architecture was renowned for its detail, decoration/ornamentation, structure and the impression that one would get when passing through this building typology. The use of high volumes of space, natural light through clerestory windows, the play of light and shadows, etc… Every individual will have a different experience and perception of the building, both consciously and subconsciously, but one thing is for sure, that there is some undeniable, indescribable enlightenment that occurs within oneself in these types of spaces.

      Over time religion seems to have faded slightly into the background and the modernist buildings that have taken form don’t quite evoke the same feeling which was once felt – almost any building or auditorium or hall is suffice to practice within, as long as it is big enough to house the congregation. Thus church architecture has become lost through time, between the historic movements and those of modernity.

      However not all is lost as there are a few modern contemporary sacred architecture buildings that should be acknowledged – Tadoa Ando’s Church of Light and Church of Water, Richard Meier’s Jubilee Church and the Thorncrown Chapel, to name a few – for their take on bringing back a sense of pride in the religious realm and in evoking similar spirituality and emotions which was once perceived or felt in earlier church buildings.

    • Sheldon Jennings part1/2

      This post will concentrate on the principals of modernist and Baroque styles with specific reference to Oliver’s observation of the Slavonic monastery of Emauzy, which follows below:
      “ In 1965 the church of the 14th-century Slavonic monastery of Emauzy was given two concrete spires in distinctly modernist idiom by FM Cerny. And although these spires rise elegantly above surrounding buildings as seen from the Little Quarter on the other side of the Vltava River, one cannot help noticing that it constitutes a concrete oxymoron: modernity is predicated on the rejection of otherworldly beliefs, in the place of which it installed a trust in reason and technology. Here one witnesses an uneasy synthesis of the two mutually exclusive Weltanschauungen.”
      A common misconception is that modernism is encoded with practicality rather than ideological elements. Architecture plays a deep-seated role in the perpetuation of the DSP or dominant social paradigm (Kilbourne, Beckam, Thelen 2000) with the reinforcement of the political, economical and technological ideologies of the given Zeitgeist [Spirit of the age].

    • Sheldon Jennings part2/2

      From this perspective, these two mutually exclusive Weltanschauungen [worldviews], have fundamental ideological principles in common. “Baroque style was encouraged by the Roman Catholic Church, which had decided at the time of the Council of Trent, in response to the Protestant Reformation, that the arts should communicate religious themes in direct and emotional involvement” (Hills 2011), and thus perpetuates the religious dogma of the Roman Catholic Church. Modernism, on the other hand, propagates “The gospel of global efficiency” (Sachs 1988). A new global ‘religion’ or dogma emerges, which encourages an inexhaustible aspiration to progress, and an infinite desire for wealth. Self-interest expressed through economic rationality is generally considered to be a standard motivator of behaviour. Modernist design, with its rational and efficient spaces, forms the cornerstone of this contemporary ideology thereby encouraging a new ‘global’ or ‘world-religion’, The gospel of global efficiency.

    • Bashara Van Den Heever

      Churches are some of the most amazing structures in terms of beauty but ironically one of the least used buildings in society. Their massive size and yet so humbling on the interior really fascinate me.

      I love Gothic architecture and looking at St Barbara in Kutna Hora, even though baroque embellishments exist side by side with the authentically Gothic, I find it absolutely beautiful with its complexity.
      Kutná Hora developed as a result of the exploitation of the silver mines. In the 14th century it became a royal city endowed with monuments that symbolized its prosperity. I prefer to view the ornament not as symbols of power and authority, but as examples of sacrifice,hope and prosperity. The silver used are reminders of spiritual investments and materials!

      The Dancing House in Prague which is a modern, glass building with its daring, curvy outlines is surrounded by historic architecture. The building looks out of place, strange, silly, weird, and sometimes funny. Yet this building holds some importance and beauty that fascinates and gives the ‘awe-struck’ feeling the more one looks at it.

    • Q Murdoch

      This article clearly demonstrates the is highly emotive tendancies of one’s own self towards such magnificant constructions of beauty, proportion and grandeur. I have no doubt that when it comes to church architecture it imparts a certain influence onto the individual spatially. Hence, it imparts on the individual that this is a kind of “place” so qaulitatively different from that of recent buildings that it alters the state of mind and therefore behaviour. When in your past were you in a building that made your spirit soar, that wasn’t a church building? I can think of almost none that evokes the kind of emotive response to historical architecture. In a sense, the old buildings of the past stimulates a kind of familiarity. At least, this is in my own opinion, to the extent where we as humans, whether religious or not, will find a some common basis of appreciation for historic buildings in the sense that they all are “unique” “mystical” and “wonderous”. Religious structures definately capture the spirit of the times of a particular place and offers great insight into the contextual history of the particular era. However, one can only experience such spaces first hand in order to take in the totality and hence to appreciate its ‘Gesamptkunswerk’. I have had very few of these experiences, hence, I rely of photographic material and use a little bit of my own imagination.

    • Q Murdoch

      . Like sculpturer Richard Serra, “If you reduce a sculpture to the flat plane of a photograph…you’re denying the temporal experience… the real content of the work.” Take the Sainte Chapelle in Paris. The Sainte Chapelle was designed and built as almost a direct statement of the piety and prestige of the French. Its a building whose accents are vertical; the butresses topped by eloboratly worked finials where in the chapel itself a brilliantly vertical space is articulated by painted columns. Between these columns are huge windows which in effect, converts what should be wall into glass. I took on this example of a church as it is in my mind, the supreme moment in the evolution of Gothic architecture. Here I am studying a photograph of the church, and while I can say that without a doubt it looks beautiful, I am still trying to universialize the assertion of thinking that ‘it is beautiful’ and hence trying universialize a subjective feeling. In the same way, this interpersonal relationship of what one’s own experience of a beautiful church architecture might be is proportional to one’s “oneiric” building. Church architecture is an emphatic example of where the built environment touches the human condition to ‘unite’ as one congregation whilst also profoundly instill on the individual a interpersonal relationship.

    • Q Murdoch

      The interpersonal relationship being the ‘other worldly’ experience one individual perceives in such churches of the Baroque and Gothic era. Modernist examples of buildings that try to give the same effect as a Gothic or Baroque church will not achieve that because it has been lost through time and is a rejection of otherwordly beliefs; it is rather an ideology or aspiration of progress and is formed through an economical process.

    • Michiel van wyk

      The art of church architecture is the ability to translate the significance of the human spirit through the epitome of a singular space. Church architecture;unlike other architectural forms or genres; encourages the creation of a space that identifies itself with all the human senses and attempts to justifiably contribute too and create an awareness of the human senses at one point and at one place. The baroque church’s and religious compounds where often referred to as the gateways to God. The architecture thereof had to formally establish and promote this idea. Not only did designers have to be aware of the functionality of the building and space; but also the fact that the architecture needed to emphasize this idea and connection to God by creating a sense of internal awe.

      Church architecture thus pertains to the purest of emotionally driven design processes and thus becomes an important a design tool for all willing to call themselves architects.

    • Crystal Botma

      What is a church or temple? it is a place of worship, spirit, contemplation of cause. But above all from a human point of view it is seen as a gateway and I believe the architecture represents that gateway.

      I really enjoy and appreciate old historical cities and i could just imagine having to experience this spiritually and culturally rich ‘enchanted’ presence these cities and for example churches has to offer.

      Sadly I feel like church architecture in this secular society (meaning pertaining to worldly things or to things that are not regarded as religious, spiritual, or sacred) is loosing its beauty and meaning. It does not only apply to church architecture.

      Unfortunately I have only experienced these magnificent buildings through discussions and the internet but even scrolling down and seeing the images of these structures, which i know it does not even closely come to the spiritual enlightenment one would have experienced in person.

      People can not maintain their spiritual roots and their connections to the past if the physical world we live in does not also sustain these roots, that’s why i feel that these churches and architecture is of absolute importance and slowly we are loosing these church architecture.

    • Dyl Monsma

      Not being a religious person, I struggle to understand the great costs and extent of work spent on churches by so many societies. However, I do understand the role and the need of the church for many people. Having visited Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and, especially, St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, one cannot help but feel spiritually enlightened by these awe-inducing buildings. The same can be said of various churches across England and Europe. Is this because of the sheer size of the buildings in question? Or perhaps because of the indulgent materials and superior craftsmanship? Regardless of these reasons, as an architecture student, the buildings themselves are a true testament to a time bygone.

    • Mcoseleli

      This article to me goes to show the power architecture has to the human spirit… spiritual or not- architecture can by all means awaken senses of a human- being.

      On the other hand, it also goes to show how architecture has evolved over time, that being from the times of mystical beliefs to that of the enlightenment (and to date); architectural gestures or motifs that were done out of qualitative responses (symbolism) are easily used for aesthetic reasons today, that which was a significant symbol at church merely means nothing but beauty to a certain (modern) individual’s apartment; but how far is this going to stretch? in 30 (or more) years time, what architecture will we witness?

      a white man’s house gated with a “bull’s horns” maybe? lol (horns of a bull often used as a symbol of security from the ancestors in african communities)

    • Mcoseleli jafta

      student number 208023548

    • Zamubuntu Sipuka(206014929)

      Characterized by their large scales and following similar traditions of form, function & style, sacred architecture is rich with historical relevance and monuments of ‘unbearable opulence’ as mentioned in the article. These sacred places were, and still are, an intermediate zone created in the belief that they have the ability to co-join the religious aspirants to their Gods, essentially acting as an ‘inbetween’ space(a mediator).

      In “Spiritual path, Sacred place”, Thomas Barrie mentions that, nowhere it more evident than in sacred architecture, where the architectural elements of “path” and “place” can be seen as universal archetypal forms representing the spiritual path and its goal. Barrie argues that built forms can be strong symbolic ambassadors of those values & aspirations shared by different cultural groups. Not all churches, synagogues & temples are perceived primarily if at all as dwelling places for the deity but as designated centres for ritual actions. In this sense they are sacred or set aside for a particular purpose.

      Architecture is an in-between place that can join people to something that may not be immediately intelligible or accessible to them. If the goal of organized religions is to help give meaning to people in life then architecture is a means to do the same.

    • Irvin

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      They’re very convincing and will definitely work. Still, the posts are very short for starters. Could you please extend them a bit from next time? Thanks for the post.

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