Friday, May 4, 2018

Church Eye Candy

Copyright © Edward Riojas

The Church, of course, is not the building. Only in the smallest sense of the word do bricks and mortar come to mind. Today, however, we will give our eyes a bit of inspiration by way of those humble materials.

Any art survey course worth its weight will expose students to the “A” list of cathedrals across the globe. Church facades with names like Notre Dame, Haggia Sophia and Sainte-Chapelle, and cathedrals in Cologne, Salisbury, and Milan are sure to come up. Even the goofier designs of Le Corbusier and Antonio Gaudi are likely to be mentioned. But there are other church buildings – worthy in their own strange right – that might manage the “B” list or some other catalog far down the alphabet, and those are for today’s consideration.

For starters, we go to Reykjavík, Iceland, and look at the Hallgrímskirkya. Modest it is not. One might snicker over its claim to fame as the tallest church in Iceland – especially after wondering whether the frigid country could even support two churches. But in an effort to out-do the Roman Catholic cathedral located in the same city, the Lutheran Hallgrímskirkya was sent skyward at 244 feet. It’s facade is intended to mimic the snow-covered mountains of the landscape.

Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavík, Iceland

If big isn’t your thing, then perhaps a short visit to the little country of Luxembourg to see the diminutive Quirinus Chapel is in order. Originally a pagan site, the caves were given walls, a roof, and bell towers. It has been a Christian sanctuary since the 11th century, and for those planning a visit, the church is [ahem] just off the road.

Quirinus Chapel, Luxembourg.

Not to be out-done by Luxembourg, Germany dug its own little church out of a mountain. Technically, Felsenkirche, located in the town of Idar-Oberstein, was built on a natural ledge of a cliff. It has served as a sanctuary for worshippers since the late 1400s.

Felsenkirche, Idar-Oberstein, Germany

Meanwhile in the Dominican Republic, architects have taken things into their own hands. Cumbersome in both name and materials, the Basílica Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia is a gargantuan oddity that is reminiscent of the St. Louis arch and a MacDonald’s restaurant on drugs. It’s amazing what one can do with a vision of the Virgin Mary and a few bags of concrete.

Basílica Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia, Higüey, Dominican Republic.

As long as we’re on this side of the pond, we might as well take a hop, skip, and a jump into Colombia to see the Las Lajas Sanctuary. If the Hogwarts crowd wasn’t so much into wizardry, this is where they’d all go to church. If you happen to visit the shrine, however, Tuesdays are popular for pickup games of Quidditch.

Las Lajas Sanctuary, Nariño, Colombia.

If you’re into mega churches, then here you go. The Cathedral of Maringá in Brazil will also do the trick if you’re into large grain bins and rocket assembly buildings. I won’t mention its obvious nod to a dunce cap. I simply won’t.

Cathedral of Maringá, Maringá, Brazil.

Let’s wrap things up with another Lutheran church – this time in Copenhagen. Grundtvig’s Kirke is imposing and brutish and looming. And we can’t stop looking at it. The facade takes all its cues from traditional cathedral floor plans and almost lapses into the Gothic realm. Almost. This is a rare example of Expressionist architecture, and every detail has been pumped with visual steroids. If churches went to the gym, this is the one that would grunt as it dropped 400 lbs. of free weights on the floor. But the church isn’t all doom and gloom. The congregation even has a children’s theater group in which participants “perform cheerful games.” They meet in the crypt.

Grundtvig's Kirke, Copenhagen, Denmark.

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