Thursday, August 19, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Ecumenical

I was recently alerted to a post on the Catholic-minded Anglican weblog One Timothy Four about a handsome new Greek Orthodox church going up the Kenton neighborhood of northwest London. (If that sentence doesn't make for an example of how a love of tradition can bring about its own sort of ecumenism, I don't know what is.) St. Pantaleimon's looks like a promising new addition to the constellation of new traditionally-designed Orthodox churches that have quietly sprung up across much of America, and, it would seem, Europe, without a lot of fanfare from the classical architecture community. The church is being built by Papa Architects, with interiors by Ibex.

It amazes me how the Orthodox Church (and also Eastern Catholics) have managed, even in quite financially tight times and in humble parishes, to manifest their faith in bricks and mortar; even humble streetfront churches or those converted from Protestant preaching halls still manage to acquire a coating of iconographic murals on the inside, presumably at great expense to the little groups of believers who assemble there. Roman Catholics these days, I'm told, are the wealthiest churchgoers in the United States; and yet, it is often our Eastern brethren that play the widow with her mite to our own luxurious comfort.

In addition to being traditional in its ornamentation, the structure of St. Pantaleimon itself is, according to the writeup, governed by Byzantine traditions of sacred geometry, a fact which will no doubt be of interest to our readers. I am usually skeptical about computer-produced renderings but, as you can see above, they look promising. The real test will be how they handle the details. The construction photo of the pre-fabricated arches (below), does encourage me a great deal. Note also its presence close to the street, helping both define public space and also display its own significance as a sacred structure. Too often churches in the United States, by contrast, tend to pull back into large sprawling campuses which discretely turn their back on their suburban surroundings. The complexity of the massing, even within the constraints of the tight urban site, also adds considerable interest to the design, and represents an authentic engagement with the Byzantium's long tradition of elegantly-designed jewelbox-like churches.

A few more of the construction drawings follow.

You can find out more about the progress of this handsome new church at the Landmark weblog, which is maintained by St. Pantaleimon's own Fr. Anastasios.

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