The modern church in Rome : on the interpretation of architectural and theological identities, 1950-80
Modern religious architecture is studied and understood inadequately, partly because modernity has been considered antithetical to religious practice and belief, and partly because studies of modern religious architecture have typically sidelined its distinctively religious aspects. Furthermore, would-be interpreters have lacked an adequate interpretive framework for the modern and religious identities that together characterize modern religious architecture. Thus, the problem is rooted both in history and theory: the solution requires 1) an interdisciplinary approach to the historical context of modernity that can properly situate such buildings in architectural and religious terms, and 2) a hermeneutic that is sufficiently rich to address the religious content, yet fluid and modest enough to be fruitful even from outside such theology-laden contexts. As identity is largely a matter of mainstream practice, the historical setting for this research is a significant but non-experimental context: post-WWII Rome. This period is marked by both a multifaceted identity crisis with distinctive political, architectural and theological aspects, and the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) that marked a shift in Catholicism’s attitude towards modernity. The chief interpretive concept offering sufficient richness and fluidity to address modern religious architecture is mediation, relevant to both religious identity (especially on beauty and sacrament) and the identity of modern architecture (especially on ornament). The main interlocutors here are Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-88), Karsten Harries (1937-), Oleg Grabar (1929-), and Jacques Maritain (1882-1973). The hermeneutic framework is forged and tested through formal and phenomenological analyses of four post-WWII Catholic churches in Rome that are exemplary of four modes of mediation: 1) San Giovanni Bosco (1952-59), by Gaetano Rapisardi: critique; 2) San Gregorio VII (1959-61), by Paniconi and Pediconi: updating; 3) San Policarpo (1960-67), by Giuseppe Nicolosi: retrieval; 4) Sancta Maria Mater Ecclesiae (1965-70), Luigi Moretti’s unbuilt “Chiesa del Concilio”: invention. These analyses also reveal four distinct forms of ornament — material, tectonic, geometric, and spatial — that are discernible largely through a reconsideration of ornament as defined primarily through its mediating function. The conclusion evaluates the fecundity of the hermeneutic and suggests possibilities for further research.