A Brief Consideration of Two Blessed Sacrament Chapels in Padua

Just as the Church has no singular, official philosophical school to which she formally subscribes, neither does she subscribe to any one particular style or period of art. Instead, her focus has always been on the ideal of noble beauty: that whatever style or artistic school is utilized, it should be characterized by beauty and nobility and, in so being, be suited to the requirements of divine worship.  

The northern Italian city of Padua has many beautiful churches, but two of the most important are surely the Duomo of Padua (Duomo di Padova: Basilica Cathedrale di Santa Maria Assunta) and the Basilica di Sant'Antonio (the Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua). The respective Sacrament chapels of each of these basilicas provides an interesting case study in the artistic and stylistic plurality of the Catholic tradition -- for while they are both located within the same city and are situated within the same context, stylistically they each represent distinct artistic schools. 

Left: Cappella del Santissimo Sacramento of the Basilica di Sant'Antonio.
Right: Cappella del Santissimo Sacramento of the Duomo di Padova

In the case of the Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua, we come face to face with a chapel of some gothic and, arguably, some Other Modern influences. In terms of the gothic, the pointed arches and vaulting are obvious enough, but so too is the strong use of colour in the overall design. Particularly striking are the striped archways and -- in a more Other Modern vein - the scene in the apse which integrates the altar, reredos, apse and monstrance into one unified and edifying whole. 

As we turn toward our other sacrament chapel in Padua, we see a polar opposite artistic approach.  Here we have a chapel whose design is characterized not by colour, but rather by a great neutrality: creams, white and gold -- and natural light -- are what characterize this particular chapel. 

In many regards the forms and overall design of these two chapels couldn't be more different and yet, at the same time, what is noteworthy is how -- despite their stylistic diversity -- there is indeed a commonality, a unity, that can be found between them. This is because between the two is a shared liturgical and theological foundation which informs the designs of both -- designs which are also founded upon traditional canons of art. All of this speaks to the fact that what is not critically important is whether something is gothic or baroque; rather what it is critically important is that designs are informed by the liturgical and theological tradition and characterized by their beauty and nobility of form. 

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