Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Myth of the Domus Ecclesiae

 In my search to better understand Catholic architecture, one of the more interesting questions is 'why did churches change so much over the 20th century?'  In the course of just a few decades, how did we move from grand, formal, and noble edifices which were rich in material, decoration, sacred art, beautiful stained glass, devotional shrines, and layered symbolic meaning to austere, boxy, whitewashed, functionalistic churches bereft of all emotion, meaning and mystery?

Cathedral of St Helena; Helena Montana. (1908-1914)
One of the finest neo Gothic churches in America
Corpus Christi; Aachen, Germany. (1930) by Rudolf Schwarz
"The box the church came in"

The answers to this question are diverse and concern massive shifts in cultural values and technology: everything from the simple fact of new building materials such as ferrocement, steel, plate glass and forced air heating systems, to more arcane issues such as the supposedly spiritual properties of the crystal, the archeological investigations of pre Constantinian church architecture, and even 19th and early 20th century germ theory.

In 2010 I presented a paper on one aspect of this question at "A Living Presence" conference at Catholic University of America: namely, the place of the domus ecclesiae (the 'house church') in ancient Christian and mid-century modern church design. 

I am grateful that a version of that paper was recently published in Sacred Architecture Journal as Domus Dei, Quae Est Ecclesia Dei Vivi: The Myth of the Domus Ecclesiae

What recent examples of Catholic church architecture really move you to help pray the Mass better?  

Does your own parish church assist you in this, or does it need to be remodeled or improved? 

Do you like simpler, plainer, more community oriented, and more functional churches, or more beautiful, richer, symbolic, and traditional churches? 

Do churches really need to be one or the other, or can we find an architecture that speaks to both the contemporary world and the traditions of the Catholic faith?

An invitation to you....

This blog is a place of conversation, and I hope to be of service.  If you have any sorts of questions or comments about Catholic or sacred architecture, sacred art and iconography, theology or liturgy, art and architectural history, cultural and aesthetic issues, please feel free to post a message, or to email me at  I will do my best to answer your questions.

I also welcome you to visit our website Liturgical Environs PC to see the way the ideas I think about inform the buildings I design.

And if you are interested in my services as a Catholic architect for your parish building project, whether a new building or a remodel, please feel free to contact us at:

Liturgical Environs PC
9402 S 47th Place
Phoenix AZ 85044
t. 480.783.8787