Book Review: Churches Their Plan and Furnishing by Peter F. Anson (Romanitas Press)

The most delightful book I have seen on the subject of building and remodeling Catholic churches is Churches Their Plan and Furnishing by Peter F. Anson.  This easy to read and little-known softcover book has recently been republished by our good friends at Romanitas Press.  I highly recommend readers purchase a copy here and enrich their knowledge of the building and decoration of churches.  This book is an authoritative reference, a primary text resource on ecclesiastical art and architecture.  Its 242 pages offer a plethora of information in the areas of liturgical arts, rubrical matters, and common sense architecture based on solid tenets of beauty, ecclesiastical legislation, and historical knowledge. The book glows with over 100 pen and ink images by the author, who in his day visited and examined thousands of churches.  It has a fantastic bibliography to match.       

The author is Peter Anson (1889-1975) who wrote this book during the early years of the Second World War.  He was originally a convert from Anglicanism and after many years of travel and study he assembled this book with its charming illustrations, originally published in 1948.  The outstanding feature for me is that Peter Anson emerges as one of the highest authorities representing liturgical arts, architecture, and rubrics.  He is thoroughly imbued with best tenets of the liturgical movement, giving a clear application of its lofty principles while providing a practical guide to building and remodeling churches with ample information on their planning and furnishing.

Further, as an artist what obviously appeals to the author is the external presentation of religion.  This led to his congenial study of architecture from a young age that paralleled his sincere inquiry after truth.  His strong attraction to architecture and beauty led him to monastic life in the Anglican tradition, when in 1913 his community decided to be received into full communion with the Universal Catholic Church.  In 1924 he left the monastery and entered the world as an artist.  His travels led him to many countries, including Italy, where he found a spiritual atmosphere that suited him well.  As he wandered through Europe, he was led to the Holy Land and eventually settled in Scotland.  Anson went on to paint, write and illustrate some twenty books that claim his authorship.

One important point the author makes is that churches are not just designed to be devotional, but must also have properly designed liturgical spaces for suitable public worship.  Every church building must fulfill its functional raison d'être.  Past mistakes in planning and furnishing sanctuaries, he points out, were due to obvious ignorance of functional requirements.  The proper aim of the Catholic architect is to bring about the meaning of mysteria, the true purpose for which a church is built.  As the building and remodeling of churches is going on apace in many places, I hope this most valuable book will make a quick comeback and inspire as many as possible.  We have before us the hard task of Christianising our day once again and we want to be as effective as possible.  This book is an immense resource for designing churches correctly.    

The author describes architects as "apostles" who announce the message.  To architects he writes that (in the words of Canon Law) "care should be taken in the building and restoration of churches that the forms handed down from Christian tradition and the rules of sacred art are observed" (CIC, 1164).  He further points out that Canon Law has laid down that "with regard to the material and form of sacred architecture, it is necessary to keep to liturgical prescriptions, to ecclesiastical tradition, and to the greatest extent possible to the laws of sacred art" (CIC, 1196).  The author concludes, "Such is the mind of the Church.  If her directions are observed, the result will be a more beautiful and convenient place of worship than if the architect allows his imagination to run riot."  

Below is the Table of Contents:

I. Ecclesiastical Buildings - Places of Worship
II. Building and Dedication of Churches
III. Style and Plan
IV. Altars
V. Adjuncts of Altars
VI. The Altar Canopy
VII. The Altar Crucifix, Candlesticks, and Sanctuary Lamps
VIII. Altar-cloths and Frontals
IX. Altar Furniture
X. The Sanctuary
XI. The Font and Baptistry
XII. The Porch and Main Entrance
XIII. The Pulpit
XIV. Confessionals
XV. Seating Accommodation
XVI. The Sacristy
XVII. The Sacred Vessels
XVIII. Sacred Vestments
XIX. Other Ceremonial Accessories
XX. The Organ and Choir
XXI. Bells and Belfries
XXII. Lighting, Heating, and Ventilation  

Following are a dozen sample images from the book to help illustrate the depth of artistic merit and encourage readers to purchase their copy.  

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