Why does a lofty Gothic church inspire and a carpeted church with drop ceilings does not? I have heard the theory that the Gothic church is reminiscent of a forest. The pillars rising like trunks of trees and the vaulting overarching like the boughs of many trees. I think this is too literal an understanding of the impact of architecture.
Instead I think a lofty church inspires because there is something sacramental about it. Everything in a gothic church points up. When you enter the heart lifts because the building lifts. The gothic structure of solid stone seems to be made instead of something lighter. The delicate tracery, the pointed arches, the finials and filigree transforms the stone and suddenly I am longing that my heart of stone might be re-made and transformed into a heart of fire and light.
Then as the pointed arches rise I see my hands placed together in prayer like little pointed arches themselves and I want to be a sacrament of stone and light. I want my heart to arch up to heaven and become a temple of the Holy Spirit–a dwelling of peace and beauty that speaks silently of grace and welcomes sinners home.
I look and see high stained glass windows, too far away for my mortal eyes to see the detail and to understand and I know that the joys of heaven are as beautiful and distant and complex and colored and mysterious as those high windows. Further down I can see some windows where saints are pictured and I want to be like that–a saint standing in eternal stillness radiant through with the light from beyond.
A tall church, in other words, lifts the soul to heaven. The anonymous architect of Glastonbury Abbey in England wrote, “I want to build a church so beautiful that it will inspire even the hardest heart to pray.”
That’s what a beautiful church does–it lifts the heart to heaven, and if form follows function, then that is one of its functions and why Catholic Churches should be high and clear and beautiful. This is why churches that look like shopping malls or parking garages should be…shopping malls or parking garages.
By the way, another thanks to all of the readers of this blog who helped us build a beautiful church at Our Lady of the Rosary in Greenville, SC.
Donations of over $11,000 came in from this blog, and it helped us reach our target of $650,000 in new money before the end of the year. If you would like more information about this church or would like to donate go here.