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.