Getting Back to the Cathedral in LA…

Post Modern architectural criticism reads like arguments with toddlers, except one does not seem to be able to read post modern critics a story or tickle them to get them off their gain-saying. Examples from the ‘architecture’ tab on the Cathedral website:

By its design, the nave encourages the full and active participation of all people in the Liturgy. No pillars block vision because nine steel trusses and the chapel structures on each side support the soaring, cedar wood ceiling. The dynamic effect results from Moneo’s design that avoids right angles and symmetry.

Here, we have a couple assertions presented as if they are so obvious only a ignorant dolt could fail to see their truth: that a nave without pillars “encourages full and active participation of all the people in the Liturgy”, and that avoiding symmetry and right angles creates a dynamic effect.

Let’s stand that on its head: pillars in a nave discourage full and active participation of all the people in the Liturgy. Is this true? I suppose in a very limited sense, if the church is so packed that some people are stuck behind a pillar, those people might not be able to see everything that’s going on – if ‘seeing everything that’s going on’ is a critical part of full and active participation, then we have a real, if not all that common, point (huge churches like the LA Cathedral are typically packed to the gills only a few times a year – Christmas, Easter). Balance that against the beauty achieved in the thousands of pillared naves around the world – this is a serious issue? Serious enough to make a point of it on the website?

The question is always: full and active participation in what, exactly? St. Patrick’s in New York (the writers on the LA web site invite comparison of their Cathedral to it, with a charming unconscious  lack of irony), pillars and all, invites all present to full and active participation in a transcendent, eternal, humbling Reality greater than anything we can create or do. The architecture of St Patrick’s, building on centuries of tradition, points to something beyond and greater than itself – THAT’s what any Catholic should want to participate fully and actively in.

Anyway, I dispute the claim that not having pillars contributes to full and active participation in any real way outside the minds of the Cathedral Design Team. That argument is grasping at straws.

Next, we have the claim that a dynamic effect results from the avoidance of symmetry and right angles.  Suuuure – avoid them enough, and the building stands a good chance of dynamically falling down. Again, as above – this is a ‘beautiful plumage, the Norwegian Blue’ moment – pointing out the lack of symmetry and right angles as if this is a big positive just means you’ve run out of relevant things to say.

Here’s the irony of ironies: the people, especially the new bishop (who, I imagine, will be putting in kneelers and looking into replacing the tabernacle as soon as possible – probably take a few years, as he needs to get his team in place) will find a way to make this place holy. The presence of the Holy Spirit, if given half a chance, will triumph over the architecture. Slowly, the people will add a little this, take out a little that, until the building, within its 500 year life expectancy, will become more and more holy. Then, once the fix it or replace it decision point is reached, where the fix it cost is a significant percentage of the replacement cost, the good people of Los Angeles, if it hasn’t fallen into the sea by then, will get a new cathedral – maybe, this time, with some meaningful attention paid to the feelings and taste of the actual church going Catholics.

One can always hope.

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

2 thoughts on “Getting Back to the Cathedral in LA…”

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