Why do we need beautiful churches?

I have often looked at my church and noticed the bare walls devoid of any scenes that could do homage to the glory of God. An artist with a traditional bent could do a miracle in the space as great as that of Michealangelo. Why must a Cathoic Church look like the denizens of Martin Luther or Oliver Cromwell have just come through and white washed the saints off the walls?


Why do we need beautiful churches?

The need to worship in a place of beauty and transcendence is as old as humanity itself, according to an excellent article from the NOR. To quote:

The anthropologist Mircea Eliade, in his Patterns of Comparative Religions (1958), documents the fact that ancient peoples in many parts of the world deemed places to be holy where some manifestation of the "holy" or "divine power" transforms a place into a sacred place with transcendent meaning. The places, whether mountains, hills, caves, rocks, groves, etc., then become broadly speaking "sacramental," visible signs of invisible realities. That God made use of man's need for such signs in his revelation to the people of the Old Covenant is clear in his singling out Mount Horeb and Mount Sinai for his theophanies to Moses, or from the Oaks of Mambre being sacred to Abraham, or the holy stone at Bethel being sacred to Jacob. But it is the tabernacle (or tent), and the Temple as its successor, which is the sacred place par excellence for the Israelites. Wandering Semitic tribes had portable tent shrines, and so God commanded the people "to build me a sanctuary so that I may dwell among them" (Ex. 25:8). The tent sheltered the Ark of the Covenant, which was important not so much for what it contained (manna, tablets of the Law, and the Urim. and Thummin) as for the Shekinah, the presence of God which hovered over the decorative cherubim which crowned the Ark. Thus the presence of God manifested by the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night was "incarnated" in the portable ark which was enthroned in its own tent shrine when the pilgrim people came to rest and pitched camp. However, when the Israelites were established in the Promised Land and the Kingdom was firmly established, there was a desire to have a permanent Temple. King David wished to build it, but God made his contrary will known (2 Sm. 7:1-7) and David, who was considered a man of war, was passed over for his son, Solomon, whose name means "the peaceful king." To him is given the task of building a temple of three sections: the vestibule, the Holy Place, and the Holy of Holies with the Shekinah, presence of God. It will be added to later, but the precise architectural plan is less important than the place it held in Israel's heart and devotional life. The Temple became the religious center of Israel, the object of cult and devotion to devout Hebrews. There were pilgrimages to visit the Temple, and as the pilgrims neared the great edifice they sang the Gradual Psalms (120-134) or Songs of Ascent as they ascended Mount Zion where the Temple was. Some theorize that the whole Psalter was a collection of songs accompanying feasts celebrated in the Temple liturgy.

No comments: