“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”~Henry David Thoreau
The world is strewn with Christian churches of grand, awe-inspiring proportions and elaborate decoration – St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, Notre Dame in Paris – actually, one can travel to any city in Europe and find one or more of these grandious religious structures, but it takes a different point of view to create a different kind of place of worship – one that is less about a show of wealth and power, and more about the revelation of Man’s intersection with Nature and God.
The Revelation of Man’s Intersection with Nature & God
Two such subtle, austere, houses of the holy are: The Church Of The Light in Japan and The Chapel of The Holy Cross in Sedona, Arizona.
“Nature is a revelation of God. Art is a revelation of Man.” ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The central tenet of Christianity is Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and by extension, its central icon is the cross. Whilst classical Christian cathedrals aren’t known for their subtlety in decoration, they do embed the emblematic cross subtly into their architecture, placing their altars at the axis of of the cross, visible when viewed from above.
[Rendering of Laon Cathedral, illustrating the classical cathedral "cross" architecture]
The Church of The Light and The Chapel of The Holy Cross also use the icon of the cross, but for them, the icon is the central focal point and main decoration, creating a much different feeling for the visitor. They both also create a narrative about Man, Nature and God, in separate, but equally impacting, ways.
Church of The Light, Osaka, Japan
The Church of The Light in Osaka, Japan, was built in 1989 by famed architect, Tadao Ando
. The Church is one of his most famous designs and incorporates his trademark Zen philosophy, in which simplicity and inner experience are more important than appearance and the austere “emptiness” of the space allows the visitor to be transported into a spiritual realm.
Ando is also known for his ever-present reinforced concrete walls. Ando says ”In all my works, light is an important controlling factor. I create enclosed spaces mainly by means of thick concrete walls. The primary reason is to create a place for the individual, a zone for oneself within society.”
The Church of The Light epitomizes these characteristics, with its concrete walls, modernistic shape, pared-down decoration and the light beams created by the cross at the front of the church. It is a quiet, meditative space, yet the sunlight beaming through the cross embodies the holy experience of the intersection of Man, Nature and God.
The Chapel Of The Holy Cross, Sedona, Arizona
The Chapel of The Holy Cross, built in 1956, is located in the spiritual area of Sedona, Arizona. The Chapel, situated between two red rock towers, appears to “grow” out of its stone surroundings and is said to be placed on one of Sedona’s famous “energy vortexes”.
The Chapel was the vision of sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude [a compatriot and colleague of Frank Lloyd Wright] who has said that the chapel is ”a monument to faith, but a spiritual fortress so charged with God, that it spurs man’s spirit godward.”
While The Chapel is Roman Catholic, there are no services held inside and it is open to all people of all faiths as a place of rest and spiritual renewal. Brunswig Staude is quoted as saying “Though Catholic in faith, as a work of art the Chapel has a universal appeal. Its doors will ever be open to one and all, regardless of creed, that God may come to life in the souls of all men and be a living reality.”
Like The Church of The Light, the interior decoration of The Chapel is sparse and meditative, the enormous windows and the cross are the focal point, allowing visitors to feel a deep connection to Nature and God.
[Photo: Dave Toussaint photographersnature.com]
As Tadao Ando explains: ”An important role of the church is to enhance this sense of the spiritual. In a spiritual place, people find peace in their mind (kokoro)…” So, whether your church is grand and awe-inspiring, or austere and meditative, wherever you find peace is the most holy of houses.