Sunday, 26 July 2009

"Rock and Roll"

Not all the sanctuary reorderings I saw in France last year were as felicitous, in my opinion, as those of Chartres and Tournus. Here we see the modern high altar of the cathedral of Tours. Now, no one can fairly claim that this is a mere picnic table and despite its...lack of(shall we say?) aesthetic merit... (I am trying to avoid the obvious term "ugliness") I think there is a clear enough attempt to evoke the stone rolled away from the door of the Tomb- and thus assert the link between the Lord's death and Resurrection and the Mass. One could, perhaps, argue that a traditional notion has been impressively articulated in a modern idiom. Interestingly, descriptions of altars in the Old Testament refer to "un-dressed stones"- which might well have seemed to chime in nicely with a modern aesthetic of the kind described by E.H. Gombrich in "The Taste for the Primitive". Indeed this is far from kitsch- but, perhaps a little too far. Its uncompromisingly rugged grandeur is a million miles away from the trite "coffee table" altars with which so many of our churches have been provided.

Incidentally, perhaps following the example of St Martin who gave half of his cloak to a beggar, a more recent bishop appears to have parted with half of his candlesticks! The asymmetric placing of candlesticks is a widespread peculiarity in France where, as often as not I have found mass celebrated with just one candle.


  1. The altar here is not "ugly", just a bit different than the norm. I wonder, are the parishioners happy with the altar?

    Maybe EWTN could use the altar for the opening shot for their show "Life on the Rock"!

    God bless...

  2. Brian, thanks for your comment. One thing for sure is that I have a different opinion about this altar every time I look at it. "Ugly", I think I agree now is definitely the wrong word but it differs more than "a bit" from the norm- both for good and, perhaps, not so good reasons. As for the parishioners' views: I have no idea what they think but as a Cathedral Administrator said to me several years ago "The Catholic Church isn't a democracy"!

  3. Hello Patricius,

    I am in "Permanent Diaconate" formation in NJ-USA. What you say is true - the Church is NOT a democracy.

    And thank God it is not!

    God bless - yiou have a beautiful blog!!!