Another Case Study in the Restoration of a Classical Sanctuary Ordering

Today I wished to share a digital comparison of the current sanctuary of Groenmarktkerk, Haarlem and what it would look like if it were restored to a more classical ordering -- which we have done here digitally as an approximation.

As I have frequently noted in previous articles of this sort, while the nineteenth and earlier twentieth century could at times fall into what I have called "pious clutter" ("PC") -- which is to say, sanctuaries where someone decided to accumulate as many devotional statues as possible in and around the sanctuary, two problems have arisen since then in the latter half of the twentieth century (and into the earlier twenty-first). The first is a sterile minimalism which has nothing to do with "noble simplicity" as the Church understands it and the second, on the other end of the spectrum but equally problematic, is what I call "post-conciliar clutter" ("PCC") -- the bookend to the former "pious clutter."

Our present case study certainly shows a variant on the latter for what we come across is a beautiful historical sanctuary that has had various elements introduced that have the effect of cluttering the sanctuary and obscuring many of the most important symbols.  The most glaring of these is the grand piano that has been placed in the sanctuary (a beautiful and graceful instrument in its own right and proper context of course, but the sanctuary -- and arguably the liturgy itself -- is not the proper context). The second is the addition of the forward altar -- an altar which neither meshes with the historical altars and their reredoses and which, for all the protestations of certain generations, is not even required. In short, whether we are talking about the usus antiquior of the neo-Roman liturgy,  the Second Vatican Council itself did not require any such developments in instances such as these.

The matter of the ambo and lectern also suffers from a similar problem in terms of their lack of stylistic harmony with the historical sanctuary. If an ambo and/or lectern is to be added to a sanctuary, it should be done in such a way that that they do harmonize, and ideally things like an ambo would be far better off to pick up queues from the amboes of the first millenium in terms of their placement before, rather than within the sanctuary - -which would be best accomplished in new churches of course so that the design could be done holistically rather than piecemeal in historical churches.

Of course, while we are on this subject, I cannot but comment on the rather unfortunate trend of sticking potted plants here and there in and around a sanctuary (it's little better than doing the same with statuary) as well as the unfortunate practice that one often sees in relation to the same on altars, as well as the candles and candlesticks with their size and unusual placement. Most of these things only serve to jar and distract rather than focus and uplift.  

By comparison, were we to restore the classical ordering of the past half millennium or more, here is what we would see and experience:

A couple of points here. First off, the sight lines are much cleaner all around. This is a far better manifestation of noble beauty and simplicity than is the same sanctuary with all of the extraneous pieces crowding the same sanctuary. 

In addition, I would point to the fact of how the lines of sight now also make more sense. In the current arrangement, shown in the previous photo, what we find are three altars crowding up in a line all on the same visual plane. In the traditional arrangement the high altar is truly and actually "higher" helping to emphasize that it is the climax of the church and sanctuary. Everything frames it, points toward it and leads up to it. In addition to all of this, the de-cluttering of this sanctuary would also have the effect of making the sacred ministers and sacred ceremonies more visible (rather than being obscured by objects) and also easier to execute (for in the current arrangement there is a labyrinth of objects to navigate around).

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