Whenever I go to mass (I don’t go as often as I should), I’m alert to the art in the church. Last winter, we made our first visit to Our Lady, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral, which is seat of the archdiocese of Toledo, Ohio. The cathedral is resplendent with mosaics of every kind. The magnificent mosaic of Our Lady behind the altar is shown in the accompanying photograph.
The cathedral was built in the late 20’s and shows the Church’s still-living artistic traditions, at least as to purpose. Putting aside the expense, can you imagine a comparable church being built today? Or even 20 years after it was dedicated in 1941?
Not only are the traditions that informed the church’s artistic style gone, it’s purpose is lost as well. Practically every inch of the huge cathedral is covered with art. The experience is similar to sitting in one of the grand European churches, such as Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. Sitting in such a space is a moving and profound experience.
By contrast, modern churches (I’ve been in a lot of Protestant churches too) are bereft of art, and what little there is is modest and unobtrusive. Highly abstract and lacking particulars, modern church art strives to be polite and invisible. You never see open-throated depictions of martyrdom, or Christ’s suffering–staples of the earlier traditions.
Something was lost and what has replaced it is unsatisfying, poor, and–like I said–invisible.