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Suggestions on the Arrangement and Characteristics of Parish Churches/Suggestions on the Arrangement and Characteristics of Parish Churches






The disregard of the beautiful and significant principles of Christian art, in the structure and decoration of modern Churches, is a subject of very general complaint. Contrasts are frequently drawn between them and the religious edifices of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries. People are amazed at the superiority of these to all modern buildings of the same class, and destined for the same purposes; and sometimes inquire, What is the cause of the excellence of the religious edifices of ages popularly known as “dark,” and generally believed to be imperfectly civilized; and of the defects of corresponding structures in an age which calls itself enlightened, and in which science is so generally diffused? I believe that, upon a careful consideration of the subject, it will be found that the defects of modern Churches are partly attributable to the empiricism with which Church builders now-a-days work, unrestrained by any generally-received principles of ecclesiastical art; but, more especially, to their habitual neglect of the real requirements of a Catholic Church, as set forth in the Church's authorized books of rites and ceremonies, and illustrated by traditional usages, and the best authors upon ecclesiastical rites. The idea of a Church, entertained at present by most Church-builders, is, that it should be a simple, oblong room, of great or small dimension, as the case may require, well ventilated and lighted, and furnished with an altar at one end.[1]

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Fig. 1.

Another type—and it is a favourite, from its supposed capacity for the accomodation of very large congregations—is the T shape.[2] An occasional deviation from these forms is the addition of a fourth limb, so as to produce an ill-proportioned cruciform arrangement. All these forms had their origin in penal times, when it was impossible to practise the ceremonial prescribed by the Church, and are by no means adapted to the requirements and commands of the Church in a state of freedom. In fact, Irish Catholics had become so accustomed to witness
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Fig. 2.

nothing, in their humble Chapels, but the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice, that they are now often surprised to learn that a Church is intended, or must be adapted, for any other function, rite, or ceremony.

Exteriorly our Churches are as deficient in religious effect and character as they are internally defective in ecclesiastical arrangement. Too often the only feature which distinguished the House of God from secular buildings, is a plain cross, or the figure of a saint. Then the mere architectural features of these Churches are still more unlicensed and incongruous. Each designer follows his own caprice; one borrows decorations from Pagan antiquities, which have no reference to, and by no means illustrate the character or teaching of the Christian religion, but are rather in direct contradiction to both; another draws from the common domestic or profane buildings of the day.[3]

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Fig. 3.

When the impropriety of these practices is perceived—as, fortunately, it sometimes is—the alteration is somewhat better, but very far from being completely satisfactory. We then meet with misapplied and poorly-executed imitations of the details of mediæval art; as, for example, the introduction of features of great Cathedrals and Collegiate Churches into small parochial Churches and Chapels. From these practices, I think it will be found, arise the irregularities in arrangements,
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Fig. 4.

and deficiency of individuality and religious character in our modern Churches.[4]

The opposite of all this, both in principle and practice, prevailed in the middle ages, and with results as splendid as those of our departure from them are miserable. The true requirements of a Church were then so well known that a Church builder could no more overlook them than a modern architect could neglect to provide for the wants and comforts of a family in designing a private house. There were certain principles which appear to have obtained universal acceptance amongst all professors of ecclesiastical art—such as solidity, or, as it has been termed, “reality” of construction; the prohibition of features, which were essential to construction in one place, in places where
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Fig. 5.

they could merely serve for effect; the subserviency of all ornament to essentials; and the speciality of treatment required by each material. We must add to these a familiarity—which, probably, extended to the simplest artificers—with symbolic and conventional representations of sacred subjects. Obeying these requirements, and adhering to the generally-received principles and conventionalities, the artists of those times were, in all other respects, as free as the most liberal professors of their art in our day, as the immense number and variety of their works, all based on the same original ideas, sufficiently prove. Of the thousands of Churches erected under the influence of this system there is not one which does not bear indelibly stamped upon it its Christian character and origin, or that could be mistaken by any person possessing but a very moderate knowledge of ecclesiastical history and antiquities, and of the Catholic Ritual, for anything but a Christian Church. Be these buildings large or small, plain or elaborately decorated, of rude structure and coarse materials, or of nicest scientific construction and finest
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Fig. 6.

marbles, the same character pervades them, one and all. Whether the injudicious restorer, or the destroying Vandal, has set his mark upon them, the Christian character still reveals itself indestructible by either. In their perfect state they were, indeed, “full of mystic significance in the cruciform plan, the lofty arch, the traceried windows, the lateral chapels, and the central elevation. Not a groining, a mullion, or a tracing was there in which the initiated eye did not read some ghostly counsel, or some inarticulate summons to confession, to repentance, or to prayer.”[5]

The decline of ecclesiastical art, consequent on departure from ancient principles, is not confined to this country, or even to England, but, from widely differing causes, has spread over the entire of Europe since the early part of the sixteenth century. The downward progress, however, has within the last ten or twelve years, received a most effectual check. Learned and zealous Catholic artists and antiquaries have, by a return to the principles of the mediæval artists, realized much of their practice; they have not aimed at the mere imitation of the forms of mediæval art, but have recovered its spirit. And as where the spirit is the body quickens, so many of the works of these men are worthy of the best days of Christian art, and give us hope that it will yet live again.[6]

This society is ambitious to co-operate in that great work, though, of necessity, it must be in an humble way; and if it be not permitted to us to hope for the splendours of religious art, which the material prosperity of other countries warrants and demands, at least we may strive for propriety, order, and good taste in all that belongs to the externals of religious worship.

Since our establishment we have been frequently asked our views on the proper arrangement and true character of Churches; and our President and the Council being of opinion that the present is a suitable occasion for the expression of their opinions, have requested me to draw up this paper.

I must premise that Churches are divisable into several classes, each possessing its own peculiar characteristics—as Cathedral, Conventual, Collegiate, and Parochial Churches. True art does not admit of the confusion of any one of those classes with another. It is obvious that the latter are, and must always be, the most numerous, and that correct notions about them are, consequently, of greater importance. I have, therefore, on the present occasion, confined myself to “Suggestions on the Arrangement and Character of Parish Churches.”

The first point to be kept in view, in arranging a Church, is to comply with the requirements for celebrating the Holy Sacrifice, and other sacred rites administered a the altar, with becoming order and solemnity. The second is to supply a place in which the faithful can devoutly and reverentially assist at the holy offices. To meet these two demands, it is evident that in a Church there must be two parts, somewhat separate and distinct. And in some sort, though imperfectly, we find this distinction in our modern Churches: but too often the distinctive character of the holy place is little marked from that appropriated to the worshippers. Frequently the congregation crowd up at either side of the altar; sometimes we find the altar so completely isolated that the congregation surrounds it, and, occasionally, we find it so situated that it is most irreverently overlooked from galleries on all sides. All such arrangements are plainly calculated to lessen the solemn effects of religious ceremonies, and to distract the attention of the ministers at the altar. It is necessary, in arranging a Church, not only effectually to separate that part appropriated to the celebration of Divine worship from the place occupied by worshippers, but the separation should be clearly and strikingly marked. In the oldest remains of ecclesiastical architecture, as well as in those of the middle ages, this distinction is well and plainly preserved; and in whatever other respects they may differ, in this, at least, they agree. In the early Roman basilica this separation of the holy place from the other part of the Church was defined by a railing or cancelli: hence the word chancel. The figure of a ship was used as a symbol of the spiritual Church by the early Christians: hence the name navis, or nave, was applied to that portion of the material Church in which the faithful worshipped. These names—chancel and nave—have been preserved with the things they represent; they indicate “the two, and the only two, absolutely essential parts of a Church:” as has been well said, “if it have not the latter, it is at best only a chapel; if it have not the former, it is little better than a meeting-house.” Of the relative proportions of chancel and nave it is not necessary here particularly to speak; I may remark, however, that as it is obvious the nave, or the place for the laity, must be of sufficient size to accommodate the largest congregations which usually frequent the Church, so the chancel should be large enough to permit of the orderly celebration of the greatest ceremonies which may be solemnized therein.[7]

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Fig. 7.

This, then, is the simplest type of a parish Church, and is very well adapted for limited or even moderately-sized congregations; but in populous districts, and in our cities and towns, a Church of this form would be found to be totally inadequate. It would not be consistent with architectural propriety (or with what may, sometimes, be considered of more importance, strict economy) to build a nave of much greater width than thirty feet, which, having a regard to proportion, would not allow the length to exceed a hundred feet. The designs, however, of Churches for larger congregations are very numerous, and extremely simple, and have the advantage of preserving the two essential and original features. If the requirements of the congregation do not very much exceed a simple nave, the addition of a lateral aisle may be sufficient; if that be not sufficient, another aisle on the opposite side may meet the demand.[8]

If, again, a nave and two aisles be not adequate to the wants of a congregation, transepts may be added, which, if they be well proportioned in themselves, and bear a due proportion to the nave, and aisles, and chancel, produce the most beautiful and most significant plan of a Church—the cruciform.

In large Churches of this kind, of course, one altar will not be sufficient; and, as it is not strictly correct to have more than one (and that the great altar of the Church) within the chancel, suitable provision must be made for the supplementary altars in other parts of the Church. It is obvious that, in a Church with aisles, their eastern terminations will be the most convenient and appropriate situations for altars; they should, if possible, be placed in chapels projecting laterally with the chancel; and the separation between these chapels and the aisles should be as well defined as that between the chancel and nave.[9]

If the number of the clergy attached to a Church, the wishes of the laity, or special devotions, require additional altars, the east side of the transepts is a convenient position for them. If the transepts be of moderate dimensions, there might be two altars in each; thus a parochial
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Fig. 8

Church, of good size, might have so many as seven altars.

It is remarkable that all the churches of the early and middle ages—though perhaps there are not two Churches to be found exactly alike—follow some one or other of these types. I have not any doubt but that, in the beginning of ecclesiastical art, propriety and convenience were alone consulted, and that these considerations produced the
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Fig. 9.

arrangements to which I have just referred; but it is also unquestionable that, in process of time, a symbolic meaning was attached to each part of the Church. Thus we are told by old writers, and by some moderns who favour them, that the great tripartite division of a Church into nave and aisles was meant to symbolize the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, that the cruciform shape set forth the mystery of our redemption, that the chancel and nave typified respectively the Church triumphant and the Church militant. Indeed, the symbolism of ecclesiastical architecture did not confine itself to the essential arrangements and principal features of a Church, but extended itself to its minutest details. We have yet to consider two other essential features of a well-arranged Church.

Whether a Church be large or small, designed for a city or for a country parish, a sacristy, or vestry, is indispensable for the preservation of order and cleanliness. Indeed, few of even our poorest Churches is without one; but it is very rarely properly situated. The most usual position for a modern sacristy is behind the altar. This arrangement has passed almost into a conventionalism; and few can be worse. During the celebration of grand ceremonies it is necessary to observe them occasionally from the sacristy. This cannot be done conveniently, and without some danger of distraction to those officiating or assisting, unless the sacristy is placed at the side of the chancel. When in that position, a small window will permit the sacristan to see the different parts of the ceremonies in the chancel, and to make the necessary arrangements, without leaving the sacristy. Another objection to the sacristy's being behind the altar is, that (when in that position) it inevitably destroys, or renders impossible, an eastern window, which is the most beautiful of altarpieces.[10] The next requirement is a place for the Church bells. For a small Church one bell, for summoning the faithful to the celebration of Mass, or other Divine services, may be as much as can be afforded, or is needed. And it may be placed in a simple bell-cot, or belfry, on the east or west gable of the nave.[11] But in more important Churches

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Fig. 10.

larger bells are required. Indeed, I am happy to say that, on this point, at least, there has been a great revival of ecclesiastical feeling of late. Very often, before a Church is half advanced to completion, not only a bell for calling the faithful to prayer and praise is set up, but a full peal sends out its joyous notes. Those who feel that bells are beautiful accessories to the externals of religious worship, and who know what beautiful prayers and ceremonies our Ritual prescribes for their casting and benediction, will naturally desire that they should be properly provided for in the arrangements of a Church. A tower is specially the place for them. It should rise considerably above the highest part of the Church, so that their sound may be quite uninterrupted. This tower should not be used as a staircase to a gallery, nor as an organ-loft. Not as a staircase to a gallery, for the simple reason that there should be no gallery in a Church—a gallery cutting across the nave and aisles of Westminster Abbey would effectually destroy it; not as an organ-loft, because, cooped up in a tower, that noble instrument is less effective than elsewhere.

Then, as to the position of the bell-tower; whenever it is possible, it should be placed at the west end of the nave, because there the lower part—the bells, of course, being always in the upper stage—serves as a most appropriate and commodious porch to the Church, and by prolonging the nave, adds to the interior effect of the building.[12] There is one exception to this general rule—that is, in the case of cruciform Churches, where the most usual, and by far the most beautiful position is the crossing of the transepts, and nave, and chancel. Indeed, this exception may be said to be the rule in cruciform Churches; but there are numerous exceptions to these rules, as, for example, St. Patrick's Cathedral in this city, which is both tripartite and cruciform, and yet the tower is not at the crossing of the transept, nor at the west end of the nave, but stands at the north-west angle of the north aisle. In fact, when there are sufficient reasons for giving up either of these positions—such as want of space at the west end, &c.—the tower may consistently be placed wherever is most convenient; and in the old Churches we find towers in all positions except one, and that is the east end of the chancel. It is certain that the preservation of the east window was the object in avoiding that position.[13]

Having now completed a view of the general arrangements of parish Churches, I am anxious, before calling your attention to their architectural characteristics, to make a few observations upon some articles of ecclesiastical furniture, which should always be provided for in the arranging of a Church. I do not mean to deal with the artistic embellishments of the subjects to which I shall refer, because they would carry me far beyond my limits, and because it is the intention of our society to put forth distinct treatises upon them. I shall merely speak of some of their essential proprieties.

The first and absolutely indispensable item of ecclesiastical furniture is the altar. The proper place for the principal altar is, of course, the chancel and towards the east end. A passage should be between it and the east wall, as the Roman Pontifical prescribes that, in the consecration of a Church or of an altar, the bishop shall pass round the altar several times. This passage will be also found of use to the sacristan, in making his arrangements about the altar. The altar should be raised above the general level of the chancel, as the chancel itself should be raised above the nave; one or two steps may be sufficient in cases of necessity, but three is the most significant and graceful number.[14] I suppose it is almost superfluous to observe, that the proper material for an altar is stone; it is that which is commanded by the Church. So inflexible is this rule, that no other altar can be consecrated; and in cases where only a wooden altar can be provided, a consecrated altar-stone must be used. A central crucifix, and at least two candles, are prescribed by the Rubric for every altar during the celebration of Mass. These, with the sacred vessels and altar cloths, are all that are absolutely commanded by the Church for the celebration of Low Mass, and (if they be properly treated) have a more dignified and solemn effect than the incongruous and often profane ornaments with which our altars are frequently burdened. I do not, of course, mean that the decorations of the altar are to be limited to what is merely prescribed as necessary for the celebration of the Divine offices, and that light, natural flowers, sculpture, and painting are not to lend their decorations to the Holy of Holies; but I respectfully submit that it is better to provide well for what the wisdom of the Church commands, before we call in the aid of mere accessories, however desirable they may be. And when these adventitious decorations can be afforded, I am sure it will be readily granted, that authorities for them may be more successfully sought after in the monuments of the ecclesiastical art of Catholic times and countries, and in the works of the great Catholic artists of old, than in the secular and profane art of latter days, or in the works of men who had no idea of even the existence of such a thing as Christian art.

The next requisite, and one which, I grieve to say, is scarcely ever provided for, though its uses are frequently referred to in our Rituals and Pontificals, and are known to every clergyman, is the sacrarium, or piscina. One of its principal uses is to receive, and carry down into the earth, the water used in washing the priest's hands at the “Lavabo” and after Mass, and in washing the corporals and purifiers. Every reader of the Rubrics must be acquainted with many other uses to which it should be applied. Its usual form is that of a niche cut into the wall, and its proper position the south lateral wall of the chancel, and towards the east end. It may conveniently be provided with a credence shelf, upon which to rest the cruets containing the wine and water for the Holy Sacrifice.[15]

At the celebration of High Mass three seats are required for the priest, deacon, and subdeacon, while the choir sings the “Gloria” and “Credo.” These seats, or sedilia, are situated at the Epistle side of the altar. In the mediæval Churches they were most generally built into the wall of the chancel, and were sometimes of stone and sometimes of wood.[16]

In several of our old Churches—as, for example, Holycross, Jerpoint, Quin, and Adair—an arched recess, usually called the sepulchre, may be observed in the north wall of the chancel. Very often it is treated with great artistic beauty. Like many other features of our old Churches, its origin and use have frequently puzzled mere antiquaries. Mr. Pugin says it was used for a rite which was prescribed by the Sarum Ritual, and practised in France and other countries—that is, the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament from Good Friday evening till Easter Sunday morning, when it was carried forth in solemn procession. This rite was not identical with the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament from Holy Thursday, for the Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday; but was meant to commemorate the repose of our Blessed Lord's body in the sepulchre from his taking down from the cross till his resurrection. It was never sanctioned by the Roman Ritual, and, in consequence of some irreverences which attended it in one of the French Cathedrals, was forbidden. That rite cannot, therefore, be practised. But the “sepulchre” was appropriated to another use—that is, it served as a memorial for the person who built or largely endowed the Church, and was called the “Founder's Tomb.” The same privilege would now, I presume, be granted to persons possessed of so much zeal as to imitate the pious liberality of our ancestors in Church building.[17]

It is not sufficient that the chancel is separated and distinguished from the nave architecturally—that is, by a chancel arch, and by raising the general level of the chancel floor above that of the nave, or by making the width of the chancel less than that of the nave; every feeling of reverence and propriety suggests that there should be some sufficient barrier to prevent the too free access of the laity to the chancel; and, indeed, few of our poorest Churches are without a sanctuary railing of some sort.[18] In the mediæval times, the cancelli of an earlier period developed into lofty and magnificent screens, occupying every open space about the chancel and chapels. That which stood in the chancel-arch was, in England, called the rood screen, from its being surmounted by figures of our crucified Saviour, and the Blessed Virgin, and St. John. In France it was called the “jubé.” The lateral screens were called parcloses. A great deal of controversy has taken place latterly upon the propriety of restoring these screens, as they have fallen into very general disuse since the sixteenth century, and most unwarrantable prejudices have been sought to be raised against them. I think every impartial person will admit that, as we must have some sufficient barrier between the chancel and other parts of a Church, and as all essential features should be rendered as ornamental as propriety allows and means afford, we can have none more beautiful or so full of meaning as a judiciously-designed screen—one of construction so light that it will not prevent the faithful seeing satisfactorily the ceremonies in the chancel, but which will, at the same time, aid in marking the distinction between the sacrifice and the worshippers, and add to the solemnity of religious rites.[19]

Every parochial Church should have a baptistry, in which, as the Church desires, the sacrament of regeneration should be administered to the children of all the faithful of the parish, without any distinction on account of the worldly rank or condition of the parents. I am glad to observe gradual introduction of baptismal fonts into several of our city parochial Churches, and even in some country Churches and Chapels. At the same time I have to regret the unsuitable material and inappropriate character of most of them, and the objectionable and irregular positions they occupy. The ancient position of the baptismal font, near the entrance door, is the most convenient and most significant one that can be given to it, as the Rubrics require, for the full solemnity of the rite—not, of course, for the due administration of the sacrament—that the ceremonies shall begin at the entrance to the Church. The positions of the priest and sponsors are duly regulated. There the beautiful prayers, by which the administration of the sacrament is commenced, are recited, and the ceremonies, so full of meaning, performed. The priest breathes on the person to be baptized, signs him or her with the sign of redemption, administers the consecrated salt, and performs the exorcisms. Then, and not till then, is the neophyte introduced by the priest to the material Church (symbolical of the entrance into the spiritual Church), where the profession of faith is made, the anointings and baptism by water administered. It is obvious, then, that the most appropriate position for the font is near the place where the rite commences; and ancient example confirms this. Of course, in our climate, some external protection is required for the neophyte and sponsors during the celebration of the introductory part of the rite. Where the bell-tower is situated at the west end of the nave, and the lower part used as a porch, the requirement is complied with.[20]

In cases where there is no tower, or where the tower is placed in such a position that its ground floor cannot be conveniently used for this purpose, a lateral porch, either north or south,[21] will serve; and for this arrangement we have abundant precedent. The position of the font at the very threshold is as significant as it is convenient. It is a perpetual memorial of our admission by holy baptismn to Christ's spiritual body, and should serve to remind us of the obligations we entered into on our reception into the Church. I have only to add a few words respecting the material, shape, and a few accessories of the font. Stone is unquestionably the best material; the shape may be either square, circular, or octagonal. The latter has been a favourite form from the earliest ages of the Church. It should be provided with a cover, and a surrounding screen is also advisable.

The custom of taking holy water on entering the Church originated in the primitive practice of washing the hands, as a symbol of purification, before entering the House of God. Large fountains were erected outside of Churches for this purpose. As in many other practices the form has changed, but the symbolism is yet the same that it was in the beginning. And as, for the preservation of the meaning of ancient rites and practices, as little deviation from primitive forms as is consistent with lawful and established usage is advisable, our present holy water stoups should not be placed inside the Church, but outside of it, in the porches.[22] It is obvious that the symbolism is destroyed when they are placed inside.

There are yet two other items of ecclesiastical furniture, to which I am anxious to refer. Unfortunately for those who seek precedent for everything, and who nothing right unless there is an example for it, there are no old examples of confessionals. I believe few are older than a century, or two at the farthest. In the mediæval Churches confessions were heard in open chairs, for which no special places were assigned. Modern practice has introduced the very commendable use of permanent confessionals; and it does not follow that, because we have no examples to imitate, their convenience and proprieties are not to be attended to in arranging a Church. I think Mr. Pugin has, in this as in many other instances, shown admirable skill in meeting the demands of modern usages, sanctioned by the Church, by the manner in which he has provided for the confessionals in St. George's, London; they are built into and project from the walls of the Church, between the buttresses: so that they are as permanent and as undisguised as any portion of the fabric; and so far are they from interfering with the effect of the building, that they actually contribute to its adornment. This was precisely the course adopted by the mediæval architects, with similar results; they fearlessly complied with what propriety and convenience dictated, treating effect as a secondary consideration: and the consequent fitness of the works produced reality—the first essential to true art.

The pulpit is another object of ecclesiastical furniture, which claims some attention: its use is for exhortation and instruction; it should, therefore, be situated amongst the people to be exhorted and instructed, and should never be introduced to the chancel, which is set apart for actions of Divine worship. In small Churches it may be conveniently placed just outside the chancel arch, upon the Epistle or Gospel side. In larger Churches, that it may be more central, it will require a place lower down in the nave; it may be attached to one of the nave piers, on either the Epistle or Gospel side; the latter is the most appropriate position.[23]

I now approach a part of my subject for which I cannot claim the same importance, or the same high authority, I have claimed for those arrangements which I have just past under review—I mean the style of architecture to be adopted in our Churches. The authorities for the former are the rubrics of our liturgies, and rituals, and ancient traditions, and practices of the Church: the reasons and arguments for the latter are of a purely artistic and philosophical nature. Nothing is more usual, in the war of opinion, than endeavours to exaggerate and misrepresent the theories and principles of opponents. Thus it has happened, that the views of those men who advocate the revival of mediæval architecture, have been distorted in the most painful way. Not only have ecclesiologists been represented as claiming for the forms and details of mediæval architecture, the same importance and authority as for the very things of which they are the beautiful and consistent accessories, but they have even been charged with the folly and profanity of urging them as essentials of religion. More moderate opponents have treated us as mere antiquaries, who are anxious for the revival of certain forms, because they are old; whereas the simple fact is, that ecclesiologists have a real purpose in view, and that is, to build Churches in which ceremonials prescribed by our Ritual and liturgical books can be fully and efficiently carried out, and to decorate them in that style which accords best with Christian traditions and sentiments, irrespective of merely antiquarian considerations. They are careful not to confound the reverential investigation of antiquity with the blind worship of the obsolete. Hence it is, that while venerating every epoch of Christian art, they have chosen for revival that which seems best accommodated to modern necessities. They respect the Basilica, and see in it a reality and fitness for its era; they admire it various offshoots and successors—Byzantine, Romanesque, Lombardic, and the rest. They venerate the mosaics and sculptures of the Catacombs, as they admire and would imitate the frescoes of Angelico, and the sculptures of Ghiberti. They only wage war against the vain attempts to make Pagan temples suitable for Christian worship, and the irreverence, to use the words of a distinguished ecclesiastic, of making “naked cupids stand for angels, and sprawling women for the cardinal virtues.”[24] In a word, they prefer the mediæval style, because they esteem it the most perfect architecture the Church has developed for herself; because, when a Church is properly arranged, it is the only style that can be adopted without the perpetration of numberless artistic solecisms; and because it accords best with our climate and materials, and is, consequently, the most economical. I hope that, on a future occasion, some of our members will dwell more at large on these reasons, than time or space permits me to do now.

“But,” it is frequently asked, “why not develop a new style, suitable to our era, and take advantage of the mechanical and scientific improvements of the age?” To this answer is made, that those improvements are made available, and very sensibly influence the character of the revived mediæval style; but that “to invent a new species of architecture, or suddendly to call into being a new development of an old art, is what no individual artist, however gifted, or genius, however powerful, has ever accomplished,” all art being the growth of time, influenced by various external circumstances. But, even if such an unheard-of phenomenon is to appear, before its advent, it is surely prudent to use the best art we possess in the best way we can.

In that species of architecture which we consider the best adapted to our religious edifices, and of which our country yet possesses some admirable remains, there is an almost infinite variety, ranging from the greatest simplicity of parts and perfect plainness to the highest elaboration of detail and greatest magnificence. From certain peculiarities and characteristics, which have been observed in the mediæval or Gothic architecture, it has been generally divided into three styles, called the Early or Lancet Gothic, the Decorated, and the Perpendicular. This nomenclature is far, indeed, from being settled; but it will serve our present purpose sufficiently well.

In selecting from these styles I would say, that in which a Church ought to be built depends upon several considerations—such as the necessary size of the building, its locality, the materials accessible, and the funds that may be calculated upon. It is obvious, for example, that the features of a large Church, compressed into a small building, form a mere caricature; and, on the other hand, the features that would be perfectly suitable in a small Church, being increased in their dimensions, to accommodate them to a large building, produce a monster in art. The materials should likewise affect the style of architecture. Many features—such as deeply-sunk mouldings, and traceried windows—which are easily worked in sand and free stones, cannot be produced in our granites and limestones. The site should also influence the architectural design. The great elevation and ample windows which city and large town Churches demand, are not needed—on the contrary, are objectionable in country districts. Even in country situations, the building which harmonize with a fertile plain, or wooded valley, would be out of place on a rocky height, or standing on the sea coast. In fact, the resources of art are so illimitable, that the artist who yields himself obediently and intelligently to the demands and resources of nature, never will repeat himself. This is the secret of the variety of form, and unity of idea, of the works of the great Christian masters. They had no stereotyped expressions of fixed ideas. The freedom of Christian art is perfectly analogous to the true freedom of opinion and action that exists in the Catholic Church, and nowhere else. As it would be impossible to point out the peculiar characteristics suitable to each locality, I must confine my remarks to the more general characteristics of country Churches, and of town and city Churches.

If a Church be properly arranged, the very simplest architectural features will produce a perfectly ecclesiastical effect. Low walls, of roughly-dressed ashlar work, or rubble masonry, simple lancet windows, boldly-projecting buttresses, high-pitched roof, with gables terminating in crosses, will be as unmistakeably a Church as one of the most finished detail. It is a great mistake to suppose that height is indispensable in Gothic architecture; on the contrary, nearly all old country parish Churches, in the Gothic style, are low. In Churches composed of a simple nave and chancel, the height of the walls may be about equal to the vertical height of the roof. Certainly, this would be an inadequate height, if the pitch of modern roofs was to be the standard; but Gothic roofs are nearly all high, seldom falling much below the equilateral pitch, except in the later examples, when the art began to decline. This great height of the roofs contributes to their own permanency, as well as to that of the building; and, being internally open to view, gives the effect of height to the inside. In aisled Churches the height of the side walls of aisles need seldom exceed from 15 to 20 feet; that height, with the pitch of the aisle roof, will give sufficient altitude to the lateral walls of the nave, even without the intervention of a clerestory: the roof being open, as in the former case, produces a similar effect of height. The walls of a country Church need never be of dressed stone; roughly-hammered
Suggestions on the Arrangement and Characteristics of Parish Churches Figure 11 BL Scan.png

Fig. 11.

ashlar or rubble work, with dressed stone jambs to windows and doors, produce an admirable effect—a much better effect, indeed, than a surface of smooth stone, unless it be well relieved by ornamental accessories. It is painful to think of all the money that has been squandered in smoothing the outside of the walls of Churches. There are several unroofed and half-finished Churches through the country, which could be now complete if this needless expenditure had been spared.

As there should be no feature about a Church that has not a purpose or a meaning, buttresses should be only used where they are necessary for the strengthening of the building, and then they should be sufficient for their purpose, and treated boldly. It is one of the faults of modern Gothic work, to introduce buttresses merely as ornamental features. The use of buttresses is to resist pressure; and if decoration can be afforded, they may be rendered very ornamental, thus uniting utility with beauty.

Before leaving the subject of masonry I must observe, that walls should never be covered with what is called “compo” plastering, Roman cement, or rough casting. All these are very perishable, and, after a few years, give a building a dreary and dilapidated appearance; and the cost of keeping them clean and in repair, after a short time, is fully equal to the expense of cut stone. Another thing to be observed in masonry, whether it be dressed ashlar or rubble work, is, that it should not be coursed. The formality of horizontal lines does not harmonize with the free character of Gothic work; moreover, coursing adds very considerably to the expense of masonry. Nor is there any necessity to square every stone; the true principle is, “always to lay every stone in its best bed, lifting up any part of it which may want thickening, by means of thinner pieces. Regular courses are not to be studiously attempted; but any stone that comes to hand is to be laid in, provided it has a good, plain bed.”[25] Quoins and jambs, too, deserve some consideration. The modern method of what is called “block and start,” is open to the very same objections that coursing and squaring stones for the face of a wall are—needless formality and affected regularity, with useless expenditure. I have often seen a really good quoin stone, wrought at considerable expense, rejected because it wanted an inch or two of a fixed height. In quoining, the true principle is, to secure sufficient bond into the bond of the masonry. If a stone be fit for that, and has a good bed, it has all the requisites for a quoin stone.

The features of doors and windows depend, in their general outline, upon the style of architecture adopted, which, as I have already said, is regulated by several considerations. There are, however, a few proprieties connected with them to which, as they are frequently forgotten, I am desirous of calling your attention. It ought to be unnecessary to say that the use of a door is to get into and out of a building, and that it should, therefore, be in the most convenient place for that purpose. If that place chance to be on one side of a building, there is no reason for having a door on the other side, which will never be required, nor a mock door, to lead people astray. The reality of which I have spoken, as a characteristic of Christian art, forbids this unmeaning uniformity. Everything must be what it purpots to be, and nothing less. The most appropriate place for doors in Churches are the west ends of the nave and aisles, and in the lateral walls, north and south; when in this latter position they should have outside porches. As a door is for entrance and exit, it should be no larger than is necessary for its purpose; thus a lateral door may be no higher than four feet and a half to the spring of the arch, as it is to be used solely by the people going into and coming out of the Church; but the west door of the nave should be sufficiently large to allow solemn processions to pass through, and to allow the free exit of large congregations. The extravagant and unnecessary height of modern Gothic doors has arisen from the apparent ignorance of architects of the use of the segmental “rere arch.” The head of a door will not open if the arch of the opening be of the same shape all the way through; hence the necessity, in arched doors, of making the inside arch of flat segments. That simple expedient being neglected, the usual course is to make the part of the door under the arch of sufficient height for all practical purposes, and to fix the upper part stationary. This produces needless expenditure, and destroys the proportion of a door.

Windows, when properly treated, are amongst the highest embellishments of a Church. Every chancel and chapel should have an east window: when filled with stained glass they form the most beautiful altar-pieces. The nave and aisles, or the chapels at their terminations, sould also have east windows. The sides, north and south, should also have as many windows as are necessary for the admission of sufficient light. If there be a clerestory, it should also be furnished with windows. When the Decorated or Perpendicular style is adopted, mullioned and traceried windows will be necessary, and of these there are numberless examples. I must caution you, however, against the use of wooden mullions and tracery; they should always be of stone. Wooden sashes also should be avoided; the best and cheapest are of “fret lead.”

I have already said that the roof of a Church should be of high pitch, and open to view internally. This cannot be insisted upon too strongly. In no respect are our modern Churches more defective than in their roofs. No one has denied that high roofs are best adapted to our climate, and the most lasting. The objection to them was, that “they did not look well.” But no argument can be more groundless. Without urging the harmony and expressiveness that exist between nature and the works of art executed in accordance with nature's laws, which would demonstrate that the flat roofs of Italy, which are useful and beautiful in that country, are inconvenient and unbeautiful in our northern latitudes, nearly all inquirers into aestetic subjects agree in the opinion, that lines embracing pyramidal forms are more beautiful than those with a horizontal tendency. No architectural works ever displayed the pyramidal outline in such perfection as the great Gothic Churches of the middle ages; and it was to the high pitch of their roofs they were mainly indepted for their verticality of character. The illustrations accompanying this paper will, I hope, show the comparative effect of high and low roofs. Then the arched and groined ceilings in “stucco,” of our modern Churches, besides being unreal imitations of stone construction, are, as all Church-builders know, enormously expensive. An open wooden roof, of dressed timbers, is fully fifty per cent. cheaper than the plainest stucco groining. It has, moreover, the advantage of always looking finished, and can at any time be embellished with paintings.

Where there is a bell-tower, the most beautiful covering for it is a spire. The spire, if possible, should be built of stone. If that cannot be afforded, it may be constructed of wood, and covered with lead, slates, or tiles. If a spire of any sort cannot be built, the next best covering is the “broach,” or pent-house roof, of which the spire is a development.

Before passing to the consideration of the characteristics of city and town Churches, permit me to say a few words about what is called “painting or graining.” This is entirely objectionable in Church work. Firstly, because it is bad to imitate any superior material in an inferior; secondly, because pine, stained and varnished, showing the natural grain of the wood, has a much better effect than any mere imitation. The objection to graining does not extend to painting in the prismatic colours and gilding (polychome, as it is called): that stands on different grounds altogether.

The first thing that occurs to one, with respect to town and city Churches, is that which naturally affects all other characteristics; it is their necessarily large superficial area. I cannot imagine a case, however, in which a good-sized and well-proportioned cruciform Church will not meet all demands. St. George's, in London, is larger than any Church in Dublin, and it has but nave and aisles, with chancel and chapels, of course. This largeness of area imperatively demands great elevation; and, moreover, as domestic buildings, now-a-days, are carried to considerable height, it is proper that the Church, if it do not overtop them, will be no lower. Height, then, is indispensable to a city Church; but, remember, that this height is to be obtained legitimately. It will not do to pile up stones in meaningless fashion, producing large, useless surfaces of dead masonry. Make the aisle walls from 25 to 30 feet high (so as to remove the windows from the reach of the people on the outside), with a pitch to aisle roofs of from 15 to 20 feet; the nave piers and arches will equal these two heights together; a clerestory of from 20 to 25 feet in height, with a well-proportioned roof over the nave, will give a height, from pavement to roof-top, varying between 85 and 105 feet. This may be considered a moderate height; but it can be easily exceeded, if required. If to it we add the elevation of the bell-stage of the tower, which should rise clear above the roof, and a spire, I think all reasonable demands for elevation will be complied with.

The next object will be the style of architecture to be
Suggestions on the Arrangement and Characteristics of Parish Churches Figure 12 BL Scan.png

Fig. 12.

adopted; and besides that (as in country Churches) the accessible material will considerably influence this point, there are two or three other considerations which must be kept in view. Churches situate in cities and large towns, on account of being surrounded, very frequently, by domestic buildings, require large spaces for the admission of light. It will also be naturally desired that the decorative character of the Church will equal, if not exceed, that of secular buildings, and that it will, as far as possible, harmonize with them. Now, although, in country Churches, where rusticity is required, the Early Pointed may, with strictest propriety, be used, there are two capital objections against it for city Churches. The first is, that its necessarily contracted window openings will not afford the admission of all the light required. The second is, that, in complying with the desire to give a decorative character to a Church, the adoption of the details of Early Pointed—such as deeply-sunk mouldings, banded shafts, foliage, &c.—involves greater expense than the corresponding details of either of the other styles. On the whole, it will be found that the Decorated style possesses the greatest plasticity. Its traceried windows can be made of any dimensions, and its ornamented accessories are not so complicated and difficult in execution as those of the Early Pointed. The Perpendicular style, though more unbending, and a less perfect sort of art than the Decorated, possesses great resources for meeting the demands we are considering. It admits of greater breadth of window space then even the Decorated; its vertical lines harmonize remarkably well with our street architecture; and its ornamentation, being all of the surface kind, renders the execution of its details comparatively cheap.

While I think it wasteful to expend money for cut stone exteriors to country Churches, I think the introduction of dressed stone, “clean-hewn ashlars,” as the old contracts write it, very desirable in town Churches. In cities, where all public buildings, and even private residences, present polished and smooth surfaces, a Church of roughly-dressed masonry, which is quite in character with a country situation, would look mean and inappropriate. But in adopting the use of dressed surface stone, care should be taken to provide for all the ornamental detail which is necessary to produce consistency of design and unity of effect. Nothing, after all, has a poorer effect than a flat surface of finely-chiselled work, pierced by meagre windows, and unrelieved by a due proportion of ornamental accessories. It is true that, in most cases, these details cannot be afforded at first; hence it is the usual expedient to abandon all idea of the ornamental features, but to have the cut stone exterior at least. It would be much more consistent and economical to abandon the cut stone altogether, if its natural complement of decorative detail cannot be provided. I am very far, indeed, from recommending the execution of the most single ornament before the completion of all the essentials of a Church. I would not lay a chisel to a single corbel or crocket till everything necessary for decent order and propriety was secured; but I would make ample provision for giving to a Church, whenever God blessed us with the means, its due share of artistic beauty. In the matter of cut stone exteriors this provision can be amply made, by leaving nearly all the ornamental details undressed in “block.” They can then be finished whenever means permit.

I think a clerestory an indispensable feature in a large city Church; not only on accout of the majestic height it gives a building, but because it will be found the best place for the admission of light, aisle windows being very often rendered impossible, or considerably obscured by surrounding buildings.

As several chapels, to be used as chantries and for special devotions, may be attached to a large parochial Church, they should be all well defined in the external elevations, but should be kept in due subserviency to the main parts of the structure. This will produce a variety of grouping which, I think, gives the most picturesque effect to a building.

I expected to have added some observations on a very necessary arrangement in our Churches, and that is, the classification which modern usages and feelings, but more especially the poverty of a great portion of our fellow-countrymen, reasonably demand. But I find I have already exceeded my limits. I cannot, however, even now, let pass this opportunity of saying, that I think it a shame, almost a sin, to consign the bulk of the faithful—the poor—who are ever the most dutiful and loyal children of the Church, and who contribute most largely to the raising and maintenance of the material temple, to the occupation of its remote and inconvenient parts. Whatever arrangements, for the sake of proper and reasonable classification, may be made, it should be specially provided that the poor will have equal advantages with their more fortunate fellow-worshippers. The poor man should be made to feel, that no matter in how little repute he may held in the houses of the great in this world, in the House of God he is not despised, but cherished; and that God's earthly dwelling-place is his true home in this life, as he hopes the place of his glory and majesty will be in the next.

  1. Figure 1 is the plan of a Church of this type. A is the nave, or, as it is usually called, the “body of the Church;” B, the sanctuary; C, the sacristy; D D, porches; 1 is the communion railing; 2 2, reserved seats within the sanctuary: 3, the pulpit, also within the sanctuary.
  2. Figure 2 is a plan of this favourite arrangement. A is the sanctuary, containing the principal altar, 1, and lesser altars, 2 2, all within one enclosure or communion railing. B is the nave; C C, the transepts; D E and F, porches; and G, the sacristy.
  3. Figures 3 and 4 will be familiar to the eyes of many, as general types of the external character of our modern Churches. It will be well to compare their effect with that of figures 10 and 11, pages 21 and 35, which illustrate Churches designed correctly after ancient ecclesiastical examples.
  4. Sometimes we find arrangements so far outraging all ecclesiastical propriety and architectural principles, even to the rendering of the buildings incommodious for the worshippers, that they cannot be reduced to any general class or description. Figures 5 and 6 will illustrate one of these strange vagaries. The idea of the designer was, to cover in a great area with one roof, unsupported by pillars of any sort, so that the altar, placed against the side wall, would be conspicuous from all parts of the building, three sides of which were to be encumbered by enormous galleries. He succeeded, of course, in placing the altar in a wrong position; but the enormous span of the roof is now causing it to sink, and the much-dreaded columns must be introduced, to prevent its fall and the utter ruin of the fabric.
  5. Sir J. Stephen's Essays in Ecclesiastical Biography.
  6. See Appendix.
  7. Figure 7 is a ground plan of one of the simplest forms of a correctly-arranged Church; it is that of St. Kevin's, recently erected in Glendalough, county of Wicklow. A is the nave, B the chancel: the other parts shall be referred to further on.
  8. Figures 8 and 9 show the plans of Churches, consisting of chancel, nave, and aisles; they are those of St. Anne's, Liverpool, and St. Mary's, “Star of the Sea,” Irishtown, near Dublin. A is the chancel; B, the nave; C, north aisle; D, south aisle.
  9. E F, figures 8 and 9, are side chapels.
  10. Next to the holy place itself the sacristy should be treated with the most reverential respect. Its use is to preserve the sacred vessels and vestments, and to enable the ministers of the altar to prepare for the celebration of the solemn rites of religion with becoming gravity and recollection. Hence, strict silence should be observed in the sacristy, or, when speaking is indispensable, it should be in an under tone. Unhappily, however, this is not always the case. The loud voices of irreverent boys sometimes reach the Church from the sacristy. It is often the rendezvous of ladies, who busy themselves in decorating the sanctuary and the altar. It is surely a high privilege, and one to be desired by all pious women, that of contributing the best works of their skill and knowledge to the service of the Church; but their good works do not necessitate frequent visits, and conversations in the chancel or sacristy. I know Churches in England decorated in the most exquisite manner by ladies who have never dared to intrude themselves within the chancel or sacristy.

    In figures 1, 2, and 5, the sacristies are placed in an irregular and inconvenient position. In figure 7 D, figures 8 and 9 I, show the correct position.

  11. A bell-cot of this description has been erected on the west gable of St. Keven's Church, Glendalough, figure 10.
  12. In figure 8, page 18, Q shows the position of the tower at the west end of the nave. It is seen in perspective, figure 12, page 41.
  13. In the new Church of St. Mary, “Star of the Sea,” Irishtown, the tower will stand at the south-west angle. See H, figure 9, page 19, and figure 11, page 35.
  14. The position of the altar is indicated by 1, on figures 7, 8, and 9.
  15. The position of the sacrarium is shown at 1, figure 7, page 16; at 2 figures 8 and 9, pages 18 and 19.
  16. See 2, figure 7, page 16, and 4, figures 8 and 9, pages 18 and 19. A magnificent example of sedilia exists in the Abbey Church of Holycross, county of Tipperary.
  17. The position of the Founder's Tomb is shown at 3, figures 7 and 8.
  18. In better times, the laity were admonished by texts, written on the screens, not to enter the chancel without sufficient cause, and not needlessly to delay there. And at present, in many Churches in Catholic countries, and even in England, where true, reverential Catholic feeling is preserved, the laity are not admitted within the chancel, except to receive Holy Communion. It grieves me to be obliged to say, that, in this country, many of the (so-called) better classes do not exhibit due respect for the sanctuary, but too often intrude themselves, in the most thoughtless and irreverent manner, within the precincts of the Holy of Holies, at a time when Catholic faith believes that angels are contemplating with awe und reverence the wondrous sacrifice of the new law.
  19. In the Churches, plans of which are given in figures 7, 8, and 9, the chancels and chapels are, or will be, enclosed by screens. For full information on this subject, see Mr. Pugin's recent work on “Chancel Screens and Rood Lofts; their Antiquity, Use, and Symbolic Signification.”
  20. In figures 7, 8, and 9, the baptistries are shown by 8.
  21. C, figure 7, page 16, is a south porch; H H, figure 8, page 18, are north and south porches.
  22. In figures 7, 8, and 9, holy water stoups are shown in the porches.
  23. In figures 7 and 8, the position of the pulpit is shown by 5.
  24. Rev. Dr. Newman.
  25. Ecclesiologist, vol. vi., p. 44.