Friday, January 22, 2010


Aint it a shame?” some people say from time to time, “those beautiful windows way up high in our church and nobody can see them!” These windows in the part of church architecture known as the clerestory (pronounced clear-story) is the upper part of a church building that rises above the lower level. It sits above the first roof line and is punctuated with windows. The purpose of it is to fill the building with space and light. The windows are high not to make them inaccessible but so as to give the space an airy and celestial feel.

With modern lighting and the movement to bring things down to our level if they are to mean anything and pragmatic concerns such as heating bills, the tendency to have clerestories have largely disappeared in modern architecture.

St. Sebastian, a building built in modern Romanesque style makes good use of the clerestory as shown here. Though well above the heads of the congregation the ample open space makes seeing the windows much easier and the artists and architects made good use of the windows to makes them catechisms in glass.

This is just my personal opinion so feel free to disagree nobody will have to go to confession for having an opinion on such things I dare say, but it seems to me that we have lost something in focusing too much on the human person in our church buildings. They no longer give us the feeling that we are participating in something much bigger than ourselves. When we gather for Mass we gather with the universal Church at the one Mass being offered around the world and throughout time. The whole Body of Christ is present. We represent the Church militant (which is why the sign of peace is supposed to be a symbolic gesture made to one person) but also present are the saints and angles (as we here every week in the preface) as well as God Himself. Often times modern church architecture is weak in expressing this – and any help we can get would in this regard is useful!

1 comment:

Matthew K said...

I was just commenting to my wife that I have never been a member of a parish with a church structure that fully reflected the beautiful history of the Catholic faith.

The parish of my youth used a gymnasium for the Mass. These were the days of many Catholics and not enough structures to serve them. The pastor was reverent and a faithful servant that I feel blessed to have known. But the edifice was a gymnasium.

When that parish built a church, it was in the early 80's. It was not immediately recognizable as a Catholic building. Lots of chrome and spare white interior and exterior. Pleasant on an aesthetic level, but certainly not traditionally Catholic.

Then off to college, where the building was nondescript and the theology was "Be nice and be friendly".

My current parish suffered from a renovation in the early 90's that seems to have driven off many parishioners and accumulated a seemingly insurmountable debt.

Through all of this our faith survives.