Notre Dame professor, architect highlights four principles of Franciscan architecture



arcitectureWhen it comes to sacred architecture, there isn’t a specific Franciscan style. However, there are four major principles of sacred architecture that Franciscan tradition has reflected across the centuries, said a Notre Dame professor and practicing architect Nov. 19.

Duncan G. Stroik, who holds a master’s of architecture from Yale, gave a talk entitled “‘Francis, Rebuild My Church’: The Franciscan Tradition of Sacred Architecture” to an eager crowd of about 100 students, faculty and visitors of Franciscan University of Steubenville in the Gentile Gallery.

“What is Franciscan architecture?” Stroik asked.

Most people think it is unembellished, poor-looking, machine-like and functional, he said. “It should be very casual, maybe with beanbag chairs,” he joked, drawing laughter from the audience. On the contrary, Stroik presented the four major principles underlying Franciscan architecture, connected with Franciscan charisms and expressed in some of the finest works of art and architecture in history. He said Franciscan architecture should be evangelistic, of pilgrimage, eucharistic and beautiful.

To illustrate the evangelistic principle and Franciscan missionary charism, Stroik said the piazza at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi was used for preaching outdoors, and Giotto’s frescoed walls proclaim the gospel.

Also, the church building itself is a place of pilgrimage, in which Franciscan architecture reveals the pilgrim’s spiritual journey to God, Stroik said. He noted that Pope Sixtus V, a Franciscan, worked to make Rome a second Jerusalem. “If we can’t make a physical journey to the Holy Land, we can at least imagine we are present at the events,” he said.

Stroik then explained the Eucharistic principle of architecture through the Franciscans’ devotion to the Incarnation. “All Franciscan churches should strive to be a new Bethlehem,” he said. Franciscans have been promoters of beautiful tabernacles in churches, and it was St. Francis who re-created the Nativity scene.

Again using the basilica in Assisi as an example, Stroik pointed to the beauty of Franciscan architecture in its gothic arches, rose windows, deep-colored frescoes and intricate carvings. He continued, “The interior is soaring, the proportions are tall … it’s the heavens, isn’t it?”

Concluding with encouraging words, Stroik said this generation is given the responsibility, as was St. Francis, to rebuild current, sacred buildings as an investment in the faith and a gift to posterity.

Throughout his talk, Stroik conspicuously, but in good humor, offered suggestions about Franciscan University’s new, future chapel.

Linus Meldrum, an assistant professor of fine arts at Franciscan, agreed that the new chapel should include all the elements Stroik mentioned in his talk. “We need to think of the financial and spiritual aspects of this pilgrimage sight to build something that is timeless – not just appealing to specific people – and of magnificence,” Meldrum said.

Jessica Schuster, a sophomore, commented on sacred architecture from her perspective as a sacred music major. She said, “You can notice a difference with the acoustics when practicing in different buildings.”

Christine Canavan, also a sophomore sacred music major, said Christ the King Chapel is good for acoustics; however, she would like to see more traditional, rather than modern, elements in the new chapel.

Stroik’s talk was sponsored by the theology department, the fine arts department and the office for the vice president of academic affairs. Stroik recently authored a book titled “The Church Building as a Sacred Place: Beauty, Transcendence, and the Eternal.”

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