In an age when modern church architecture has been described as suffering from a “cult of the ugly,” Pope Francis has called on places of worship to reverse the trend and become places of genuine beauty.
In an address Wednesday to a gathering of the pontifical academies in the Vatican, Francis told listeners that only an experience of beauty can “restore enthusiasm and confidence” and “encourage the human spirit to rediscover its path and raise its eyes above the horizon to dream of a life worthy of its vocation.”
The experience of beauty, he said, plays an important role in “our search for meaning and happiness.” Moreover, it “liberates our daily lives it from darkness, transfiguring them, making them radiant and beautiful,” he said, quoting his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.
This beauty should shine above all in buildings consecrated to the worship of God, Francis proposed.
“It is necessary that sacred buildings, starting with new parish churches,” he said, should offer “an oasis of beauty, peace and acceptance, favoring an encounter with God and communion with our brothers and sisters.”
Earlier this year, in an essay titled “Where Did You Go, Michelangelo? The Problem with Ugly Churches,” Kevin Di Camillo said that generally speaking, “new churches built post-1965 suffer from a surfeit of repression.” Many new churches, he added, appear to be topped “with something akin to a washing-machine agitator.”
While noting that “it’s not there are no beautiful churches being built today,” Di Camillo suggested that the vast majority of them seem to embrace the “cult of the ugly,” which is the bane of modern sacred architecture.
Di Camillo ended his essay with the provocative question, “why has bad taste triumphed in a Church where artistic beauty was once our hallmark?”
Apparently, Pope Francis has been asking himself the same question, and would like to see things change.
“Artists, particularly those who are believers,” he said Tuesday, are called to “create works of art that bring us, through the language of beauty, a sign, a spark of hope and trust where people seem to give in to indifference and ugliness.”
“Architects and painters, sculptors and musicians, filmmakers and writers, photographers and poets, artists of every discipline, are called to make beauty shine especially where darkness or gloom overshadow everyday life,” he said.
In 1999, Saint John Paul II wrote a Letter to Artists in which he expressed his hope that “a new alliance with artists” could emerge for the Christian Church in our time. He ends the letter with an appeal to artists, inviting them “to rediscover the depth of the spiritual and religious dimension which has been typical of art in its noblest forms in every age.”
Pope Francis is suggesting that this artistic renewal is especially needed in church buildings themselves.
Not a bad place to start.
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