AWAKENING BEAUTY: Meaning in Contemporary Catholic Architecture

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    photo of interior stained glass window in church
    Andrea Quinn
Andrea Quinn

Examining Committee Members

Committee Member
Internal Reader
Roberto Chiotti and Christina Vanin
External Examiner
Tara Bissett

A Catholic church is unique among other places of worship because the space of a church forms the central place for the sacramental life of the Church, as Body of Christ, while also being an expression of it. With the exception of the Orthodox tradition, this is unique even among other Christian denominations. Catholic sacramental life is the path to holiness for any believer, providing the means by which one journeys from earthly to eternal life. Life as a Catholic means living within this tension between temporality and eternity, so the way architectural design negotiates past, present and future is a key consideration for any church. 

This thesis investigates several questions: What is a Catholic church, in essence, and how can its form be shaped by cultural and temporal context?  How is meaning - manifest as beauty - instilled and communicated through architecture? How can a church be both contemporary, and an icon of eternity? 

In recent decades, the Catholic Church has struggled to develop a meaningful architectural language within our contemporary world. This failure to utilize architecture’s communicative power in such significant cultural and religious spaces presents problems not only in an evangelistic sense but leads to a ripple effect in the way society values and experiences our built environment, as a whole. In that sense, this topic extends far beyond Catholicism. An examination of Catholic architecture can lead to questions about the role and the value of architecture in the world and how its beauty (or lack thereof) influences who we are as human beings. 

Within the context of Catholic sacramental life, the thesis is composed of seven reflections around time, ritual, and culture, exploring the ways meaning can be communicated through architecture, resulting in expressions of beauty.

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