Stage Manager: … We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars—everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always letting go of that fact.
(Our Town by Thorton Wilder)
|The Heavenly Jerusalem, by Gustave Doré|
In the 1939 play "Our Town", Thorton Wilder makes the subtle point that our immanent, earthly and material existence is actually an adumbration or a participation in a transcendental and spiritual reality. In Act One George and his sister Rebecca have an exchange that foreshadows the direction of the story:
Rebecca: I never told you about the letter Jane Crofut got from her minister when she was sick. He wrote Jane a letter and on the envelope the address was like this: It said. “Jane Crofut; The Crofut Farms, Grover’s Corners; Sutton County; New Hampshire; United States of America.
George: What’s funny about that?
Rebecca: But listen, it’s not finished: the United States of America; Continent of North America; Western Hemisphere; the Earth; the Solar System; the Universe; the Mind of God, —that’s what it said on the envelope.”
(Our Town by Thorton Wilder)
Notice these first three things: Jane Crofut—The Crofut Farms—Grover’s Corners: a person, a residence, and a town. These, and the rest of the hierarchy, are all part of the Mind of God. But these first three things --a person, a dwelling, a city --are also the three main Scriptural archetypes used to explain the nature of the Church, the Ecclesia, and the things of God. The Christian mental habit has always been to see things sacramentally, that it is through the material order that we understand and participate in the Mind of God, and to build systems of correspondences such as analogies, metaphors and anagogic presentations between the physical and spiritual realities :
He who has seen me has seen the Father!I am the vine and you are the branches.You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.Amen I say to you, whatsoever you did to the least of these, you did it to me.
As early as the second century, Melito of Sardis would draw the spiritual analogy between the earthly dwelling and the the heavenly dwelling, the city and the heavenly city:
the temple below was precious,
but it is worthless now because of the Christ above.The Jerusalem below was precious,
but it is worthless now because of the Jerusalem above.
The City of God in the Early ChurchIn the early age of Catholic architecture, the church has modeled on a sort of small city, as is seen in the reconstructed images of the original St. Peter basilica at the Vatican, taken down in the early 16th century due to its decrepit and unsafe state, and replace eventually with what we see now.
|Old Saint Peter's at the Vatican|
The City of God in the Middle Ages
This notion of the church building as an image of the "the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God"(Rev 21:10) was perhaps nowhere better expressed than in the Gothic age. The raison d'être of the Gothic church was that we were no to think of this as a building of stone --heavy, dense, solid, earthbound --but as a building of light --dematerialized, infused with radiance, transcending the material constraints to show us a foretaste of that celestial city that "gleamed with the splendor of God. Its radiance was like that of a precious stone, like jasper, clear as crystal" (Rev 21:11). This was a building, indeed a city, that "had no need of sun or moon to shine on it for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb." (Rev 21:23).
|The Royal Basilica of Saint-Denis, Paris, France. Photo (c) Steven J Schloeder (all rights reserved)|
|Ambulatory, Chartres Cathedral, France. Photo (c) Steven J Schloeder (all rights reserved)|
And like a city, the building is made up of smaller "houses" -- shrines, altars, chantry chapels, the baptistry, the choir screen, even the buttresses take on the shape of little aedicules to house images of the saints and angels. The building could be likened to the city since it was built according to the same rationale, and more importantly sought to express the Heavenly Jerusalem as a sacred interruption in the medieval city.
|Exterior Buttresses, Reims Cathedral, France. Photo (c) Steven J Schloeder (all rights reserved)|
The City of God in our ageIn approaching a new church project we should be striving to manifest these ideas, and to somehow seek to express that the church is not merely a "skin’ for a liturgical action" (as Environment and Art in Catholic Worship once lumpenly and incorrectly informed a generation of architects), but that the church is indeed a sacred interruption in the urban fabric, a presentation of the whole Ecclesia in the local community. It was this vision that inspired the development and planning for the new Catholic parish of Our Lady of Grace in Maricopa, Arizona. The parish acquired about 35 acres (14 hectare), of which about 5 acres were needed for the new 500-seat church (with eventual expansion to 1500 seats), and another 5 acres for a future K-8 parish school. After taking out the necessary roads, drainage and retention areas, and open space requirements, this left about 16 acres for developable land.
We worked closely with the City of Maricopa Planning and Zoning and the City Council to present and successfully implement a Planned Area Development zoning overlay for the entire parcel, which will allow for an intensive mixed use project incorporating both single-family and multi-family housing, elderly care facilities, civic oriented projects, and mid-rise commercial retail and office, along with opportunities for condo housing and hotels. In short, the goal was to create a pedestrian friendly, sustainable, and walkable neighborhood on the scale of a village, where folks could live, work, go to school and church, shop, socialize, and play all within easy access.
|Aerial View of Our Lady of Grace PAD, (c) Liturgical Environs PC|
|Our Lady of Grace - Phase One, (c) Liturgical Environs PC|
|The Church Plaza at Our Lady of Grace, (c) Liturgical Environs PC|
|Perspective view from South East. (c) Liturgical Environs PC|
|Interior Perspective, Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church, (c) Liturgical Environs PC|