Three years ago we were finishing construction of the new Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, SC. Our church is built in a traditional Romanesque style, inspired by the beautiful abbey church of Sant Antimo in Tuscany.

One of the most common misconceptions about traditional church architecture is that it has to be expensive.

Sure, if you go with a prima donna architect with an international reputation you’re going to pay over the odds. If you imagine that your church has to be solid masonry–limestone or brick –you’ll never do it.

We did it. Go here for a picture gallery of the new church.

Our little parish is in the poor part of town. We don’t have endowments and lots of wealthy parishioners, but through the generosity and hard work and prayer our people have built a beautiful church, and we did it (complete with a pipe organ and a set of fantastic stained glass windows) for under $6million.

How did we do that? Here are some pointers.

    1. Use modern building  techniques. A steel framed structure with brick veneer is the cheapest way to build. But it doesn’t need to look cheap. We created the illusion of depth in the walls by extra framing on the inside and extra layers of sheet rock. The interior walls were skimmed with plaster to give extra depth and texture.
    2. Use Church Salvage Companies We worked with King Richards Liturgical Design for the big stuff and Used Church Items for smaller items. Be in touch with these folks first and plan your church around the fine used items you are going to use. Don’t just build a cheap building and then fill it with pretty Catholic stuff. It will look dumb.
    3. Decide that the Building Will Be Beautiful – Following on from the last point. Don’t build a cheap building and then fill it with pretty Catholics stuff. Make the building itself beautiful. With modern building techniques I contend that it would even be possible to built in the Gothic style and do it in an affordable way.
    4. Beautiful Buildings are Possible in the Modern Age – Many modern architects will be disinclined to build a traditional church because they think it is a pastiche. They want to do something significant and original. But as our architect said, “Yes, we built in a Romanesque style, but it is OUR Romanesque! It is therefore unique.” Building in a traditional style is simple to use the language and forms of an earlier age to build something which is tried, true and tested. Dismissing a new Romanesque building just because it is Romanesque is like dismissing a poem because the poet wrote a sonnet. So he wrote a sonnet and used sonnet form. It his HIS sonnet, and it is also a new and unique work of art.
    5. If You’re Building a Church You’re Going to Spend several million So make it beautiful. It doesn’t need to be a pancake flying saucer church. It doesn’t need to be an ugly auditorium. Do your research, hire an architect that knows his stuff. Matthew Alderman is one I can recommend. He’s a young, v. knowledgeable architect grad. He’s now working for Cram and Ferguson
    6. Convert a Protestant Building – It is possible to buy an old Protestant Church and convert it for Catholic worship. Anja Zunkeler at Zinclair Studios does a great job at a good price.
    7. Use Experts – Talk to people who have completed work like this and done a good job. While your building committee might have good folks and sincere folks, they may not know much about the tradition of Catholic architecture. Search out for people who are in the know and listen to them.
    8. Money isn’t everything Do the job right. Spend the money on a beautiful building. You can always add the fancy stuff later if you want. If you build a cheap and utilitarian building then fill it with pretty stuff it will look like you….built a cheap building but filled it with nice stuff. That’s a bit like taking a plastic ring from a Cracker Jack box and setting a diamond in it. You won’t fool anybody.
    9. Build a Church suitable for your people We built in a Romanesque style because it is ancient, but it has a certain kind of modern austerity too. It’s almost monastic in its simplicity and that is suitable for a church in the poor part of town. Our spirituality helped to determine our new church’s style. Likewise, the Anglican Ordinariate folks at Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston built a church that looks Anglican.
    10. Spend Money on What Matters – Doors matter. You use doors. They should be good quality. Pews matter. You use pews. They should be good quality. Floors? Use stained concrete or polished concrete. Skip the expensive marble. You don’t need that. Artwork? Get good salvaged statues, stations and stained glass. Its possible.

If your parish is planning a church building or renovation project, don’t skimp and don’t assume that the building has to be a brutalist utilitarian barn. Study the theory and thought behind church architecture and do something beautiful for God!