Before and After: St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Pickerington, Ohio

Generally our Before and After series has focused on projects involving 19th or earlier 20th century churches that have been restored back to something more approximate to their earlier configurations. However, these are not the only such projects that are worthy of attention. There are also many projects that involve churches built in the latter half of the 20th century -- churches which originally might have been much more "minimalist" in their design -- which are then re-enchanted (or perhaps we should simply say, "enchanted") by improving upon their original designs.

One such examples comes by way of  Meleca Architects' project at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Pickerington, Ohio. This particular parish was built in 1991. Here is how they describe the project and their approach:
This addition and renovation project for a 1991 church building is an exercise in transforming a centralized plan layout that negates traditional liturgical orientation into a more suitable place for Catholic worship. The project includes a new Adoration Chapel communicating with a two-sided Tabernacle placed on axis behind the Altar of Sacrifice in the Sanctuary, and a re-facing of the existing interior with iconography rooted in the Church’s sacred art heritage. In seeking to fulfill rather than fight the existing Modern architecture of the building, the design intervention has been envisioned as a modern version of Romanesque precedents – drawing strongly from the primitive forms of early Irish and Italian medieval architecture.
Let's take a look.


The before configuration of this parish demonstrates some of the usual challenges with ecclesiastical designs coming from the period. A cold palette predominates and the altar comes off almost as an afterthought -- dominated by the ceiling above and wall behind. As is not infrequently the case, there is a great deal of clutter to be found in the sanctuary and a distinct lack of symmetry.


In the after configuration, a stronger but warmer and more inviting palette pervades the church, visually enriching it. The navy blue colour used on the ceiling helps to ground it better, keeping the focus on altar and sanctuary, while the gold highlights on the same offer decorative relief and an echo of the medieval tradition.

Gone too is cold tile and dated, dusty rose carpeting, replaced by decorative flooring.

Turning to the altar and sanctuary, the former small, table style altar has been replaced by a much more substantial marble altar.

In addition, the colder, grey tile flooring has been replaced by a much warmer and more decorative marble scheme. The stone wall behind has been replaced by a striped scheme -- reminiscent of Siena Cathedral -- two classical columns, stained glass and the tabernacle.  Here is a closer look:

While we are looking at this church, a couple of other features that may be of interest to our readers, beginning with the Adoration Chapel which is found on the opposite side of the altar above, sharing the same tabernacle:

And the baptismal font which includes a shell motif:

Overall, what we see in this project is that we have transitioned from a rather cold and sterile environment -- one which lacked order and focus -- to one that is warmer, of greater artistic merit and interest, where order and symmetry can now be found. More importantly, the 'after' configuration is rooted in the tradition and much more suited to the dignity of the liturgical rites.

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