Thursday, September 10, 2015

Beauty in Church

I was in a discussion the other day about the architecture and design of churches. Yes, that's the sort of late night conversations I have with friends at the bar.


I have had the pleasure of attending quite a few different churches. I went to a Quaker vacation bible school as a kid (that is a story all in itself), and later as a teenager, I would often join friends at whatever youth group activities they were doing. I was exposed to everything from Baptists to Baha'i. Add in various weddings and funerals over the years, and I've seen many places of worship. Experiencing so many places helped give me that first push to the Catholic faith.

Because to me, a church must be beautiful.

Source: CityLab

Call me shallow, but I need to feel a physical sense of awe and reverence where I worship. I can understand that for some people, austere "plain" churches help them focus on what is important.  It's the allegory of the school uniform. Strip away physical aesthetics so that only the mental aspects remain.

To me, the stained glass windows, the carved marble, the soaring architecture - it all reflects the divine. And it makes me feel small in comparison to something so beautiful. It helps put things in perspective, and gives me a feeling of awe and reverence that I need to worship. This doesn't necessarily mean that old, Gothic churches are always best. I was really moved by Matisse's work for Chapel of the Rosary when I saw a portion of his work at the Met. It reminds me of Keats' Ode on a Grecian Urn: "Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all." 

As a Catholic, I believe that Christ is present at the mass. Why shouldn't we honor that presence with beauty? For me, beauty is an extension of reverence, a way of exploring the divine - and experiencing it opens yourself to God in ways you may not experience during your day to day life. Shouldn't being in the presence of Christ take your breath away?

So perhaps it may be considered "shallow," but to me, a church must be breathtakingly beautiful, or it doesn't feel like church.

I won't get started on how I need rituals and traditions, or we will be here all night. No, really, you can ask my mother the fits I throw when she tries to alter my much-loved family traditions. I like my routines!


  1. I'm a cradle Catholic, but I can definitely relate - there's something awe inspiring that reminds me of the mysteries of the divine when I see a beautiful church. At the same time, though, I've visited some very plain spaces that give me the same reminders in different ways. Don't discount the strength and beauty of place just because it seems plain at first sight.

  2. I was grew up Catholic, though that doesn't mean much as my family was kind of the EAster and Christmas only church goers. I've been Baptist since my mid 20's. I'm 44 now, and found myself really feeling the *need* to have some reverence/beauty in my worship/prayer. So while on a night out by myself (I have 8 children), I stopped by a local Catholic church. I had to drop off my 16yo somewhere first, so I was late, BUT, it was just what I needed. It was a wonderful experience, and I am glad to have had that glimpse of reverence/beauty that sadly is missing from my church. (I know we can experience holiness most anywhere, but my life has been beyond chaotic in the past couple of years, and I really needed an actual physical space to have such an experience).

    Blessings, and thank you for sharing this!