The Potentialities of Classic Italian Romanesque

One of the most pleasing styles of Christian architecture, to my mind, is neither gothic (with apologies to Pugin) nor baroque (with apologies to Bernini) but rather Italianate Romanesque, strongly rooted as it is in the classic Roman models that have come to characterize the most iconic and important churches and basilicas in Christendom.   It's a style characterized by its distinctive belltowers, sometimes Italianate rose windows, other times transennae, it might have open-trussed timber ceilings or alternatively coffered ceilings, it should have a ciborium magnum over its altar, a triple nave lined by noble columns and so on. 

Two such 'revival' churches were built in the United States by architect Henry Schlacks, founder of the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture; the Church of St. Mary of the Lake in Chicago, built in 1917, and St. Mark's Church in Cincinnati, built between 1914-1916.  In comparing the two, overall St. Mary of the Lake comes out the clear 'winner' in my estimation, though I might give St. Mark's the edge as far as the exterior is concerned (interiorly, it is less true to its basilica-style roots). 

Let's take a quick peek at them and see if you don't agree of the appeal and the potentialities of this style of ecclesiastical architecture. It is a style that even has the capability to transcend contemporary liturgical debates about altars and their orientation for, if they kept faithful to their historical roots (i.e. freestanding altars without gradines but ornamented by tall candlesticks and cross), they have the ability to be noble in either manifestation.

Church of St Mary of the Lake (Chicago)

St. Mark's Church (Cincinnati) 

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