Thursday, August 17, 2006
Just as some gay men and women know from an early age that they are homosexual so I knew quite young, despite my Catholic upbringing that I was an atheist, or at least inhabiting that ante-room to atheism, agnosticism. (I know that my Dad is going to scroll down through that last sentence way too quickly and cheerily announce to everyone that I have outed myself on the Internet, but alas the Lord is going to have to damn me on lack of faith rather than anything proscribed in Leviticus). That said I am drawn to churches and other places of worship, probably because of their calm and grace and also because, from long before Christ to the present day, temples, mosques and churches have usually been able to guarantee a high standard of architecture. I have many favourites, such as the Romanesque churches of Cologne; a more recent post-war Church of Sankt Jakob in the same city; Sigurd Lewerentz's wonderful Markuskyrkan (pictured) in the suburbs of Stockholm; Chartres Cathedral (one of the most stunning works of art I have ever seen); two beautiful parish churches in Donegal from the 1960s, at Burt and Creeslough and churches I have more recently seen such as the Cathedral of San Giusto in Trieste and the Franciscan Church on Presernov Trg in Ljubljana.
One thing I noticed in Italy however is the religious' real annoyance at their sites of worship being visited for nothing but their artistic merit, or more often simply because of their banal fame. Italian churches famously ban women in halter tops and men in shorts from their premises and in the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, beside Santa Lucia Station in Venice, one sandwich board posted beside the front door scolded potential visitors in five languages, reminding them that churches are not art galleries or museums. Fair enough, but there are churches that have no problem in charging admission fees to defray parochial and maintenance costs. The Churches have always had a mercantile side to them but they usually prefered gather money from the faithful rather than from uninterested outsiders. The churches' real problem was crystallised in something I saw in Santa Maria Maggiore. I noticed the door to an old oaken confessional ajar and inside I saw, instead of a old wooden bench for the priest to sit on, a standard revolving office chair. It is hard to remain nonchalantly in the sacral domain when quotidian furniture design is itself irreducibly profane.