Architecture and Aesthetics
One of the most intriguing and difficult problems facing architects throughout the ages is how to convey theological truths through buildings. In other words, how do we build churches that convey religious concepts to the community living alongside? Many of the early Celtic churches were temporary wooden structures as the monks were evangelists travelling across the country. The Roman parochial system, that was eventually adopted, demanded a permanent structure: theology in stone. But the conundrum is, whilst not endorsing a theology of place (think Jewish Temple), how does Christian theology incorporate a theology of space (heaven, the divine, the Spirit)?
The real breakthrough from the usual basilica and Romanesque style of heavy thick pillars and small, dark stained windows of the Biblia pauperum (Bible of the poor) came in the 12th c. The French monk Abbot Suger, given responsibility for the building of the great cathedral of Chartres, drew on the theological symbolism of ‘light’ from St. John’s Gospel. Using ‘lux’ as the source of the light external in the form of sunshine (and as theological analogy Christ), he allowed ‘lumen’ to flood the internal space of the cathedral. How did he create this? He designed thinner columns, the large rose window on the West wall of the cathedral and the high-pointed windows to allow more fractal light to fill the space in the cathedral. Suger developed the use of stone and glass to create the effect of weightless height and refracted light which from Chartres onwards was to have a huge impact on European architecture. Approaching Chartres cathedral from the motorway, the cathedral seems suspended in space, giving the impression of something between Earth and Heaven.
Christian architects are needed to convey new understanding to our society today. Hopefully, with consideration of heat loss and energy savings in mind.