Series of lectures on Church Architecture

St. Thomas's Episcopal Church
33 Chestnut Street
Chris Glass
Oct 28, 2012
7:00 PM - 8:30 PM

The architecture of Christian churches has been the most important part of the story of western architecture, at least until the twentieth century. In this course Camden architect Christopher Glass will explore how Christians adopted and adapted Roman and Jewish models and went on to create new building forms and construction methods that changed how all structures were built.  We will look in detail at some major architectural monuments like Hagia Sophia, St. Peter’s, and the Gothic cathedrals. We will examine how these edifices shaped the smaller, local places of worship, and how the churches we see in Maine today are the heirs of these traditions.

Sunday October 14: The First Thousand Years

From meeting in borrowed dining rooms and storefronts, the early Christians evolved an architecture of the Domus Ecclesiae — the house church.  When Constantine proclaimed Christianity the state religion, the church adopted the forms of classical temples and imperial courts. The masterpiece of the time was Hagia Sofia. These forms were adapted and spread throughout and beyond the Roman Empire, but still retained the basic features of their Roman origins. They came to be called “Romanesque”.

October 21: The Gothic

The one main drawback of Romanesque church buildings was that they did not let in enough light to satisfy the theologians of the 12th century, or enough grandeur to satisfy the newly powerful kings. Sophisticated engineering and technology allowed the buildings to be taller and to have more windows than previously possible, and the churches articulated a vision of a complex heavenly hierarchy.

October 28: The Renaissance

In the aftermath of the Black Death and in rising expectations of a comfortable life in the present world, church builders rejected the systems of the Gothic age in favor of a rebirth of classical principles of balance and proportion based on human scale. Florence’s cathedral dome led the way to St. Peter’s, a church that would surpass the Romans and even Hagia Sofia.

November 4: The Baroque

Technical facility allowed architects to vary and elaborate the classical forms, and the challenge of the Reformation led to the use of spectacular architecture as a counterargument to the austerity of the Protestants.

November 11: The Nineteenth Century

After the excesses of the baroque the church returned to a more classical restraint, but also opened the way to adopting and imitating a variety of past styles. The era was one of choosing an “appropriate” style for churches, whether that was classical, gothic, byzantine, or some combination of all of them.  Maine followed right along.

November 18 :The Modern Age

After the turn of the 20th century architects and church builders began to experiment with ways to abandon historical correctness in favor of directly creating spaces that achieved the goal of elevating the spirit without reference to past symbols and shapes.  This process still goes on, with new generations criticizing the previous ones.  There are even some modern churches in Maine.

Christopher Glass grew up watching Washington’s National Cathedral being built. He has taught at Bowdoin, been Chairman of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, written two books on house design, and traveled widely looking at churches.