There has been a discussion on social media about beautiful Catholic Churches. The usual ignorant comments were know the old grumble: “Look at that huge  expensive church! They should have given the money to the poor!”

The obvious ripostes are:

  • The Catholics built beautiful churches but they also always built schools, universities, libraries, hospitals, poor houses, health clinics, homeless hostels, old peoples’ homes etc. etc.
  • The Protestant state takeover of the church meant these health, education and welfare centers were closed because they were funded by the wealth of the monasteries.
  • Today Catholics are still active around the world ministering to the poor and needy in countless ways.
  • Good point about helping the poor. How much do you give each year in volunteering your time and donating your money to charity?

But there is another  point in this argument that was made by someone on X-Twitter: that is that “the Church” didn’t build the cathedrals and beautiful churches. The people did. Invariably it was the devout lay people who wanted a beautiful church. These buildings were dreamed up, designed and paid for by the people. Sure, the clergy were pleased with them, but “The Church” –if you mean some distant aristocratic hierarchical band of prelates–didn’t do it. The people did.

Furthermore, when you study church history and the history of Catholic architecture something interesting emerges: in the modern age, when the laity are asked what kind of church they want the will invariably, instinctively ask for something traditional, beautiful and transcendent.

The modern, brutal church designs are foisted on the people by ideologically driven liturgiologists, modernist priests who are ignorant of the principles of liturgical design and tradition, or egocentric architects who want to create a stunning modernistic statement on which they can stamp their signature.

Who built the execrable Clifton Cathedral in England? Not the laypeople I’d bet. Who designed and enthused about the concrete parking garage that is the new cathedral in Los Angeles? Not the laypeople I’d bet. Who designed and built the countless 60s and 70s suburban American churches that look like a UFO that has just landed or resemble a worn out pizza restaurant? Usually a priest with no schooling in tradition, architecture, art or liturgy–but who had some flaky ideas he bought into at seminary about the Mass being a happy meal and all of God’s people were to gather around the picnic table holding hands and singing Eagles Wings.

Beautiful churches? They were built by the people.