There is no better self-introduction for an architect to make than to exhibit an especially astounding piece of architecture and then to talk about it. Since this is my first “official” post day (I couldn’t help posting earlier), I thought I would start a series of posts on church architecture the first of which I would use to introduce myself.
My apologies for the Italian. I will be heading to Rome for the year in less than a month and I have to practice. For those of you who care, the Latin would be “Ecclesiae Urbum” (according to my rusty Latin) and “The Churches of the Cities” in English.
Why though, am I going to Rome? The University of Notre Dame Architecture Program sends all of its third year students for a year in Rome to study the great buildings of the Classical Period as well as the Renaissance. It is an amazing opportunity and one of the many reasons why I chose Notre Dame. Architecture has fascinated me since I was thirteen and as a Catholic what better place to go than to a Catholic school that sends its architects to Rome? We’ll be living two minutes from the Pantheon and fifteen minutes from the Vatican.
However, I feel it my duty to inform you all that I am a Gothicist at heart. Italy doesn’t have too much Gothic and Rome has next to none. For all of you that are enthralled by Baroque Churches and/or Roman vestments, I pity you.
Most of the Churches I will be looking at over the next year will be Baroque because I will be in Rome. Because of this, you will all have your Roman Church Fix and everyone will be happy. I will however start with the Gothic because my love for the Medieval forms and philosophy will most likely tell you all you need to know about me. For a more complete look at what I think about architecture, follow the link.
The church I will start with (I beg forgiveness in advance) is one that has recently been in the news. It was damaged in an earthquake and could possibly never be the same. A president’s funeral was held there. It is Gothic. It is, unfortunately, Anglican. But don’t worry, what with the Ordinariate and the general decay of the Anglican Communion, we may soon find ourselves in possession of this magnificent church, The National Cathedral.
The National Cathedral is an astounding structure with a kind of skilled stonework that is sadly not practice much today. It is inspired by the Gothic Cathedrals (Catholic) of European cities, especially those in England. Unlike the French Gothic cathedrals, which tended to be built as urban cathedrals in the heart of the city, the English cathedrals were built on parks and large green spaces outside the urban center, usually as part of a monastery complex. The National Cathedral was built in a large wooded park on a hill overlooking the city of Washington, D.C. It has three main towers, all square: two which flank the main entrance on the western end of the church and one over the crossing. It has true transepts each with a porticoed entrance. The whole complex also includes a visitors center, a rectory and numerous chapels some of which are subterranean.
The National Cathedral is divided into three horizontal layers, as any good Gothic church is: The Arcade, the Triforium, and the Clerestory. It is actually oriented to the east (ad orientem) and has beautiful stained-glass windows.
Of course, it would take more than a couple visits (which is all I’ve had) to study the church in detail, but anyway, pictures and the experience itself will tell more than I can ever express in words. All of the pictures were taken by me (a trend I hope to continue in future posts), and were from when I was a mere freshman in college (that actually wasn’t that long ago, but sophomore year for arkies is intense).
Most of all, I wish to express how fortunate we are to have pieces of beauty like this in our nation and our world and we would be extremely remiss if we were not to understand why the builders built these cathedrals and churches the way they did and base our own church architecture on the theological truths that we hold to be true concerning creation, art, beauty and the human mind in its path to God.
Nathaniel Gotcher, B.Arch, cand. (ND ’14)