Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Church Building as a Sacred Place-A Review

One of the sweet little perks that comes from writing a blog is the large variety of reading material that comes my way for review.  I am a voracious reader who usually finds no greater pleasure than curling up on the couch with a book for entertainment or spiritual growth.  Now, for the first time, a book came into my hands that made me want to cast aside my couch potato ways and get out and explore the world so that I could take in some of what the book contained in real life.

As I gave an initial skimming over Duncan G. Stroik's The Church Building as a Sacred Place:  Beauty, Transcendence and the Eternal from Hillenbrand Books/Liturgy Training Publications when it first arrived, I was excited to learn that I actually had the privilege of praying in one of the author's architectural jewels on several occasions:  the magnificent Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wisconsin.  I then realized that this was no ordinary book that I was holding in my hands, but it was the work of a master who not only sees the importance of beauty in worship, but actively works to bring the grandeur of houses of worship back to our modern world.

While reading through the thoughtful and thought-provoking essays, I was struck by the following passages, among others,  that brought me to gratefully ponder with a deeper respect, not only sacred architecture, but also the liturgy and the gift of the Eucharist:

"We seek to restore the practice of sacred architecture because it is part of our Catholic patrimony, in the same way that images of the Annunciation, Last Supper and Crucifixion are.  They are a catechism in paint, mosaic and stone."

"Our response to the cross is to return His love in our thoughts and deeds, by feeding the hungry, and also by building churches."

"The altar which represents Christ who is the perfect altar of sacrifice, and the tabernacle, which house's Christ's Real Presence, are rightly placed in the sanctuary and seen as interrelated spiritually, the design of the church building begins with the altar, then moves to the tabernacle, and then flows from them.  This can be thought of as analogous to the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son."

The Church Building as a Sacred Place:  Beauty, Transcendence and the Eternal not only opened my eyes to the importance of designing and building magnificent churches to give glory to God, but the photographs contained within made me yearn to fall upon my knees within those glorious spaces and connect more intimately with God. I think it's time for me to make a pilgrimage or two to some sacred and beautiful churches!
Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wisconsin, Duncan Stroik

From the publisher:

How can we recover a sense of the sacred in liturgy and architecture? Why was it lost in the twentieth century? What signs of hope exist for the future? In his new book,The Church Building as a Sacred Place: Beauty, Transcendence, and the Eternal, Duncan G. Stroik, Professor of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame, answers these questions with wisdom gained from two decades of teaching, writing, and practicing architecture in service to the Church.
Writing to architects, artists, pastors, and all who see the urgent need for renewal, Stroik begins this compilation of essays by reemphasizing the nature and purpose of the church building. He then considers how the Classical Tradition can inform contemporary churches, analyzes the impact Modernist philosophy has had on architecture, and concludes by looking forward to renaissance and renewal. Along the way he gives principles of design, myths of contemporary sacred architecture, advice for priests, and explanations of the theology of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Photographs and drawings of exemplary historic and contemporary churches fill the pages of this instructive and inspiring work.
This retrospective and forward-looking collection of 23 essays by Duncan Stroik shows the development and consistency of his architectural vision over the last eighteen years. The essays cover church modernism and modernity, renaissance and renewal, principles of church design, and a critique of modern iconoclasm.

Packed with informative essays and over 170 photographs, this collection will help priests, bishops, liturgical consultants, lay commissions and  parishioners understand the Church’s architectural tradition.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Duncan G. Stroik is a practicing architect, author, and Professor of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame. His built work includes the Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel in Santa Paula, California and the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Prof. Stroik is also the editor of Sacred Architecture Journal.

You can purchase The Church Building as a Sacred Place here.


  1. I think this is a book I'll be saving pennies for! "the importance of beauty in worship"..." actively works to bring the grandeur of houses of worship back to our modern world." OH my, this is SO up my alley.. THANK YOU for bringing it to our attention.

  2. You better start saving now cuz it's got a $75 price tag.