Two Further Case Studies Showing the Benefits of Traditional Sanctuary Orderings

Readers of LAJ will already be familiar with our various case studies around the nobility and simplicity of traditional sanctuary orderings and today we have two more for your consideration.  However, before we get into that a quick comment about this exercise.

In these exercises you will notice two things. The first is that the place itself is rarely ever identified. This is purposeful as the point is not to critique a particular place -- and, in fact, critique itself isn't even the point. The point is rather to make a comparative study using a particular place to come to more general conclusions that can apply anywhere. The second thing is that the churches selected for these case studies are invariably quite beautiful in their present incarnations. This too is purposeful as it helps to demonstrate the impact that the restoration of the traditional ordering has -- even on churches that are already quite beautiful; by the same token, it also helps to demonstrate just how significant the interruptions in the traditional sanctuary ordering often are. 

With that in mind, let's take a look at today's examples.

Our first comes within the context of the 19th century gothic revival. The church is, needless to say, quite beautiful, from its original reredos, to the stencil work and woodwork seen in and around the sanctuary.  As is so often the case, a free standing altar was installed in front of the original high altar, no doubt sometime around the time of the mid 20th century.

Here is a closer look at the sanctuary as it presently stands.


A beautiful church I am sure most will agree. So then, what happens if we remove some of the mid-20th century additions that have been placed in and around the sanctuary? Let's take a look.


As you will no doubt see, the restored ordering not only gives the sanctuary back its clarity and spaciousness, it also restores the hierarchy and drama that intends to lead the eye through the nave, up into the sanctuary, and finally up the three steps to the high altar itself.

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The second example is one that comes from the continent -- Rome I believe. Here too we find the usual mid-20th century additions in and around the sanctuary.

Once again, let's take a closer look at the sanctuary as it presently stands today. (You will note that the baptismal font has also been placed up close to the sanctuary -- a trend coming out of the post-conciliar period.)


Now the temptation when looking at arrangements like this in the abstract is to think that these sorts of additions are only minor and therefore they must be fairly insignificant. However, it is my contention that even these seemingly minor interlocutions can have a significant impact on the overall perception of the church and its sanctuary. In many ways, what they do is visually interrupt the 'story' as it was originally intended to be told, competing for attention and ultimately distracting.

Here is a digital reconstruction of the traditional ordering:


As with the previous example, the restored ordering gives the church back it clarity and focus, drawing one's attention to the central focal point of the church: the altar.

In both instances, I believe the restored orderings are much more indicative of noble beauty and noble simplicity.

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