Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 27, No. 8. 1964.
Cathedral Rehash of Dark Ages
Cathedral Rehash of Dark Ages
Jack Richards, President of the University Anglican Society, makes some observations about Wellington's new Cathedral Church of St. Paul.
"A question of morality; lack of truth is intolerable, we perish in untruth"—Le Corbusier: "Towards A New Architecture."
Much has been said recently about the completed portion of the new Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Molesworth Street. A newspaper editorial described it as "a noble building" which "will represent to Anglicans the fulfillment of a great ambition." Bishop Baines has described it as "the shrine to a Christian nation." Dean Hurst has done his best to sell the idea of it as a "home for the little man."
In fact, the general impression that has been created is that Anglicans are to be satisfied with this building as an informed expression of the architectural needs of a eucharistic community. The way in which this building has been generally received suggests that most people have indeed accepted it as one of these.
AMID the prattle of praise that has been ascending recently from such varied quarters as the Renaissance Singers, the Wellington String Orchestra and The Wellington Harmonic Society, not a word has been heard that does not reinforce the familiar platitudes.
I Wish to suggest, then, that far from being any of these things, the new cathedral is in fact an extravagant assertion of things which the Church is in no way meant to embody—pride, worldliness, falsehood, and ignorance. "Pride" and "worldliness" are the only words with which I can account for the eventual spending of over Half a Million Pounds on a building which serves no indispensible function, and if "falsehood " is the only way to describe the sheer architectural pretentiousness of the building, "ignorance" seems not too harsh a word to describe that inevitable quality possessed by advisory committees, most of the members of whom appear to have had little understanding of the nature of the Church, and none at all of the nature of architecture.
The basic question we must ask of any building is, of course, "in what way is its function related to its design?" When building a Church or Cathedral, its form must spring from its liturgical function. Not only must the meaning and symbolic function of the building be understood, as the building where the Christian community meet to offer the eucharist, and trie unique symbol of the Body of Christ, it must also be adequately expressed in terms of the building materials and structural systems of our own time. We must demand, therefore, that the new Cathedral in some way attempts to do these things. What in fact do we find?
Painful as it may be, we find, if we are honest, that this "new" building is simply a rehash of a typical medieval Cathedral. In the medieval building, bulk, height and dominance bore no relation to actual use or usefulness, for the Cathedral was not primarily designed to house a worshipping community. This Image of the medieval Cathedral has been difficult to escape from, hence the new Cathedral attempts to recapture the symbolism of an image that is essentially the product of a cultural pattern—a relationship between the Church and society at large, which is totally irrelevant to the 20th century.
Thus we find pillared side aisles, buttressed upper walls ambulatory become corridor and transcept become chapel, massive tower (surely not for bells?), heavy walling tall slit windows, dummy gargoyles and even battlements (with shelter for the archers perhaps). This embarrassing anachronism has been made even more ludicrous by the addition of numerous accretions from various European buildings (see sketch), it's a sort of two-hour guide to the Cathedrals of Europe, with a 20-minute stop off at Stockholm Town Hall.
Our overall impression of this building, then, must be a negative one. An architectural view was well stated by the Architectural Group nearly 20 years ago. "If not a pale imitation, it can only be considered a vulgar disguise. The untruth of it is plain to see. It is merely an architectural college, a Jigsaw of trappings, a deceitful betrayal of all those truths of both the faith which it should express and of the architecture through which that faith should be manifest."
Admittedly, since then one change has been made for which we can be thankful—the altar has been brought forward so that it bears an almost meaningful relation to the worshipping body, However, this in no way excuses the building itself. It has been well said that bad Churches do not merely corrupt the aesthetic sensibilities of those who use them; they obscure the nature of the Church itself and of the gospel which it is called to proclaim and make manifest.
Anglicans In Wellington in the future are going to have a hard time convincing people that the Church still has something meaningful to say to modern society, when the most recent example of Anglican enterprise, far more eloquently than any sermon, asserts the contrary.