Churchgoer

I attended a funeral today.

I’m one of those godless types who only finds himself in churches for two reasons. Either I’m attending a christening, wedding or funeral (our own wedding was a civil ceremony in an Italian villa), or I’m a tourist checking out the architecture.

As a tourist I’m happy to admire the use of space and form and recognise the cultural and historical significance of these buildings, although I’m getting a little tired of guidebooks (especially ones concerning European countries) which give the impression that these houses of God are the only sights worth seeing in town. They’ll go on for page after page describing every nave and altarpiece in obssessive detail, yet say only a couple of lines about other, non-religious attractions.

But the church I was in today was something fresh. It’s a brutalist concrete oblong, not particularly attractive from the outside. A neighbour tells a story of a passerby once asking if it was the local swimming pool. But inside (and today was the first time I’d been inside) it’s light and airy and minimalist and really quite pleasant. The Mondrian-style stained glass is lovely too.

Now I realise that churches come in many shapes, sizes and styles, but you have to wonder sometimes about the motives of the designers and builders. Speaking personally if I were the type to attend a church I think I’d want it to be one of these stark, plain types which would make it easier for me to clear my mind, pray, contemplate the eternal verities or whatever. I remember visiting a baroque church in Prague that was literally dripping with cherubim, seraphim, gilding and myriad design frills. It was interesting in a grotesque fashion, but I imagine it’d be awfully distracting if you’re trying to commune with God. After a while my wife asked if we could leave because it was giving her a headache.

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5 thoughts on “Churchgoer

  1. Erik R. September 10, 2008 / 4:11 pm

    I think it depends entirely upon what the people running the church are trying to convey to those that enter.

    Your small, plain, contemplative church idea would probably have pleased the character we know as Jesus. He dug humility, I hear.

    All the money and time put into cathedrals were all intended to fill those that entered with a sense of awe and glory of God. Sort of a “if such a marvelous building can exist, then so must a glorious deity” kind of logical fallacy.

    The grotesque gothic designs are more of a control-by-fear strategy, like governments that set terrorist threat levels.

    All of them are effective in their own way.

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  2. jagosaurus September 10, 2008 / 10:58 pm

    As churches go, I am a big fan of minimalism. And I agree with what Erik said.

    Also, the last sentence of your post cracked me up completely.

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  3. Peter September 11, 2008 / 1:11 am

    Loved the link to the striking church shot Simon.

    I like them big and over-the-top, in a Latin sort of way.

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  4. Jim September 16, 2008 / 9:29 pm

    Chacun a son gout (or so I hear) – for me, you’ll never see a more beautiful sight then York Minster. Awe-inspiring on the outside, welcoming, quiet and holy inside: that’s what I compare any other buildings to (and they never live up to it).

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  5. Norm October 3, 2008 / 10:30 am

    I have to say that if I was a do-gooder and a believer and all that jazz and wanted a fitting send off, I’d prefer one of the old churches in Glasgow. Call it what you will, I just like the fact that despite so many of them being obliterated over the last 70 or so years, Glasgow has some really rather amazing pieces of ecclesiatical architecture, most of which are in sorry decline, and I’d hate to see any of these beautiful structures go to waste. So I’d like me in my big wooden box and my tiny handful of mourners to use a church to send me off in the way my granny would have liked, and then ruin all the Godliness and goodliness by going down the boozer and getting pissed, in true Scottish style!

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