Church Architecture and the History of Sacred Space with Andrew Von Maur

As we peer into the history of architecture, studying the towering spires of medieval gothic churches or the modern warehouse churches of today, not only do we witness the magnificent ecclesiastical structures of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome or a grand stadium in Dallas, we behold the values of a generation. 

“Architecture is frozen music”

 “Architecture is frozen music,” as Andrew Von Maur said, quoting Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. It captures the artistry and brilliance of the times and holds great significance for the communities in which these structures are built. Throughout history, the construction of megalithic monuments, like the pyramids of Giza or the Colosseum of Rome, were the pride and glory of the nations who built them. 

In our modern American era, we tend to place less emphasis upon the beautification of public spaces and instead invest in our private abodes. We can observe this shift in values in our observation of certain spaces more than others. 

So how does the shifting value changes of our culture, affect the special craftsmanship and beauty in our spaces of worship?

On today’s podcast of Advent Next, we are talking with Andrew Von Maur, a professor of architecture at Andrews University to discuss the church architecture and the history of sacred space. “Architecture is not about architecture, it’s about bigger things, things that are more important than architecture. The tabernacle is not about the tabernacle, it’s about God’s way. And He describes that ‘way’ through many means to us, and that building is just one way.”

Today, we will learn how architecture can be not only a reflection of a communities values, but it’s theology as well. Ever wonder why the design and build of protestant churches is different from the churches of medieval Europe? The answer lies in how a person or people group interpret scriptures. Discover the how the theology of the protestant reformation impacted the design and build of churches.

“If you go into your standard Roman Church…the state of the dead is understood differently. So Roman churches, in many ways, are tombs with people who are dead, many of whom are to be venerated or prayed to for intercession. So those buildings are designed for that particular purpose in part.”

“There is a certain theology behind those buildings, and those buildings are expressions of that theology, and they help to support that theology… I would argue it’s dangerous to deny the power and the beauty of those structures, and how they help to support the mission of the Roman Church because when you walk into these buildings, the skill level that’s been put into those buildings and the execution is often impeccable, and very emotional. It’s a very beautiful experience. In fact the building participates with the music, participates with the incense, smell participates with the ritual movement and so there is an entire sensory experience.”

“When the reformation happened, the reformation was about finding clarity. Finding clarity in God’s word and restoring that clarity. What is the way to God, what is the clear path, how do I connect directly, how do I find salvation, and what is the role of the church’s in all this? Whether you’re going through reformation in your own personal life or reformation of a building, in a sense you can understand why you have to remove all the layers first. What are all things that are distracting me from my relationship with God or keeping me from having clarity.”

As church architecture continues to change, being molded according to the values of society, it’s helpful to understand the history of architectural design and how we can use history to help inform how we choose to express our values in the design of our spaces of worship.

“Joy is part of the beauty experience. So if you start to wander too far into the utilitarian dimension, that can be lost and then you have to ask yourself is that a good idea, is that the best way for us to be stewards of our resources if our buildings don’t express joy in any kind of way? if we can afford to make [our churches] express joy, if we are willing to invest in our own private homes, why not our church buildings?”