Friday, June 07, 2013

"They Look Like Warehouses" - The Director of the Vatican Museums on the New Churches of Rome

“They look like warehouses.” In an article published a few weeks ago, the website of the Italian daily La Repubblica quotes Antonio Paolucci, the director of the Vatican Museums, giving a highly negative assessment of some of the newest churches in the residential quarters of Rome. “Spaces that do not invite (us) to meditation, devoid of the sense of the sacred, without a breath of mystery or religion.” His words were delivered in the presence of the Cardinal Vicar of Rome, H.E. Agostino Vallini, at a conference to present a new book titled “The Churches of the Perifery of Rome.” (“Periferia” is the standard Italian word for “residential areas” outside the historical center.) Dr. Paolucci’s critique rings all the more loudly because he is also the superintendent of the entire artistic patrimony of the Holy See, a position he formerly held within the Italian government; among his many other achievements, he has served as an Extraordinary Commissioner for the restoration of the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi after it was badly damaged in the earthquake of 1997, and as director of the principle system of museums in Florence. He went on to say,
“…having looked over the book several times, I cannot fail to notice how much confusion reigns under the skies of Rome in regard to the new churches. … Churches? Parishes? At best, museum spaces, room that do not invite (us) to prayer and meditation … nothing like the Baroque churches which for ages have spoken of the Christian faith with clearly visible tabernacles, domes, icons, images of the life of the Church which help the parish priests in their catecheses.”
In an article on the website of the English newspaper The Telegraph, Dr. Paolucci’s critique is backed up by Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture. It is not clear whether the header of the article is a quote or a paraphrase, but it seems to sum up the problem with so much of modern ecclesiastical architecture perfectly: “Modern Catholic churches … are built more with the aim of winning design awards than worshipping God.”

The La Repubblica article also contains a link to some photographs of a few of the new churches; take a look and see if you think Dr. Paolucci is right.

An external view of the Church of the Holy Face of Jesus on the via Magliana.

The internal view of the sanctuary and the large glass wall seen above from outside.