CONTEMPORARY SACRED ART – REFLECTIONS ON ITS ESSENCE AND REASONS FOR CONCERN

Stanisław Rodziński

Cracow, Akademia Sztuk Pięknych


Abstract:

The text aims to show the crucial relationship between the creative process of an architect and artist, who undertakes a project for a church and for the Church, and his spiritual life and his faith. It is this relationship that has determined the creation of the greatest works of sacred art and architecture throughout the history of art and of the Church. The essence of good art is its universality. Texts by church hierarchs, including John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, may give artista both an inspiration and assistance in finding the meaning and form of their works. This applies equally to the relation of religious architecture to the landscape as well as the importance of sacred art in the lives of the faithful. Without this awareness, the architect and the artist often create objects which may just as well be department stores (galleries) and churches; ones in which the faithful will not find any inspiration of faith.

keywords: sacred art, sacred architecture, artist, faith, inspiration.

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Looking at many churches which are built nowadays, at their form in the townscapes, or surrounded by valleys, woods and hills, recalling the views of almost eternal gothic, baroque, neo-baroque or neo-gothic churches, one wonders: why do we not build such churches any more? This question, however, does not concern architectural details or spatial solutions. The concern is caused rather by a certain degree of strangeness demonstrated in some contemporary churches in their surrounding landscape.

On entering these ‘modern churches’, it is difficult to find the presbytery or confessionals, which have somehow become lost in the interior due to thoughtless arrangement. Pews and kneelers are generally uncomfortable and inhibit rather than enhance the concentration which we seek inside a church. One of the natural signs of religiousness is what we call the habit of ‘stopping by the church’ for a short prayer or adoration. Inside some of the newly built interiors we get distracted by the atmosphere of the space, which does not support inner concentration, as it bears resemblance to a huge lounge, a storehouse or a hall of mass gatherings. It is upon this particular phenomenon that we shall reflect.

Every church was modern at the beginning. The Wiślica Collegiate Church was modern, St. Mary’s Church in Cracow was modern too, and so was the Aachen Cathedral. In the Renaissance and the Baroque some medieval interiors were rebuilt or even taken down, simply because they were regarded as unsuccessful or ugly. This was the case with the buildings of the famous gothic hospital of ‘Duchacy’ (the hospital Order of the Holy Spirit) on Holy Spirit Square in Cracow. They were demolished in order to give way to the Municipal Theatre, nowadays the Słowacki Theatre. Even Jan Matejko was unable to prevent this from happening. As a form of protest, he returned the sceptre which was presented to him by the municipal authorities, as an attribute of a spiritual interrex of, at that time partitioned, Poland.

I mention this not because my purpose is to arouse hope for the deconstruction of all those modern churches we are not pleased with. The point is that every epoch contributes to the way we experience and interpret faith. In the 1920s, two modern, as for that time, churches were built in Cracow: in Dębniki and in Borek Fałęcki. Meanwhile, over the entrance to the Jesuit basilica in Kopernika Street, a sculpture made by Xawery Dunikowski appeared, which depicted Christ. In 1946, Józef Mehoffer completed the Stations of the Cross which, next to Stanisław Wyspiański’s stained glass, are still regarded as great marvels of contemporary religious art. The Franciscan Friars did not conceal their doubts concerning these works when they decided to place them in their church in Cracow. They also took a risk when they ordered stained glass and an altar from Teresa Stankiewicz and Łukasz Karwowski.

translated by Renata Latko

The full text of the article was published in the pages of "Sacrum et Decorum" I, 2008. Please send your orders to the University of Rzeszów Publishers or activate an electronic subscription.