Church Architecture And Ornamentation

You may ornament a structure, but do not construct an ornament.-Rev. Dr Storrs.

From the same materials one builds palaces and another hovels; one rears a stately edifice while his brother, vacillating and incompetent, lives forever amid ruins.-H. W. Beecher.

Pious people building churches they can’t pay for is the most detestable nonsense to me.-Ruskin.

A little girl went for the first time with her mother to a church much more elaborate in its architecture and finish than her own, and said as they were going out, “O, mamma, isn’t it nice here? I wish I could come here all the time.” Was that an improper wish? Is there any advantage in having beautiful rather than ugly buildings for churches? Is there any good resulting from the pleasurable influence experienced in beholding pure works of art? Is it better when we enter a church to have it produce upon us the “general impression of harsh emptiness,” or to have lovely things rather than frightful ones to look at? Many people are attracted to a particular cathedral or church on account of the fine architecture, artistic music, statuary, or paintings? Is this a wholesome sentiment? Should anything but the preaching, the scripture-reading, the prayers, the offerings, and spiritual worship proper, be allowed to draw any one to the house of God? It may not be a low motive that goes to see the beautiful merely, but it is not the highest motive. That is not a very high order of beauty that lacks the spiritual element.

All admit that good music is appropriate to the house of God, but is the ear any more important than the eye in admitting thought and devotion to the heart? Can the eye not play just as necessary a part in Divine service as the ear? Is it wrong to go further in building a church than simply to make it capable of receiving and containing with comfort a certain number of persons who meet for religious purposes, or to add to it ornamental parts such as impress it with beauty, without increasing its utility? Some good people now hold that all Christian churches should be built without artistic considerations of any kind and irrespective of external appearance, and that the Fine Arts should have no place in their erection and ornamentation; while other equally good persons believe that a building may be raised to the honor of God or to the memory of good men that shall have certain architectural adornments peculiarly fitting to it.

The signs of the times indicate progress and change either for better or worse. Not uncommonly we now read in the papers accounts similar to the following concerning the dedication of a new Methodist Episcopal church costing $275,000,-” It is the most inspiring and impressive Methodist church structure on the continent.” Are such inspiration and impressiveness true and wholesome? The following notice recently appeared in another paper: ” The largest opalescent glass window in the world is in the new St. Paul’s church at Milwaukee. It is what is known as a nave window, the lower half being composed of three immense panels, and the upper half of a splendid rose and tracery on a semi-circle of brilliancy. This monster window in its extreme measurements is 30 feet and one inch in width, and exactly 24 feet in height. It is beautifully executed, the subject being the crucifixion -in fact, it is an exact copy of Dore’s masterpiece, `Christ Leaving the Praetorium.’ There are over 200 life-size figures represented on the wonderful window.”

In this materialistic age, these times of grand and imposing church building and architecture-an age that may yet rival ancient Greece in noble artistic conceptions, is it not well to pause and inquire where we are, and whither are we tending, and should there be any limit to adornment and outlay for God’s sanctuary?