Art & Architecture

Francis Bacon in modern times is recognised as one of the greatest of all modern religious artists expressing the angst, alienation and yet desire that humans have for the love of God. Throughout the last two thousand years artists, musicians, composers, have used symbolic representation in their works to express stories from the scriptures, or aspects of God and his creation.

The symbolic aspects of artefacts and the architecture of a building for Christians of all denominations reflect their belief about their faith. Christians would maintain that the beauty and grandeur of a church or a cathedral has the ability to create a sense of wonder or awe. Alongside the worship these places encourage community, commitment to the faith can be strengthened and a sense of the closeness of God, as Creator and Father, can be heightened. Thus a sense of God’s presence, of sanctity and prayer is often associated with such a place of worship.

The architecture of a church is influenced by the beliefs of Christians. It is often shaped as a cross from an aerial perspective, and has high spires and arches which reach up to heaven. Since the altar is symbolic of the death of Jesus, and the table for the central act of worship is found at the front of the church, so therefore the pews must face in that direction. Christians believe that to pray on their knees is important as a sign of respect, so pews have kneelers to make this more convenient.

Church buildings such as King’s College in Cambridge or St Paul’s Cathedral in London are symbolic of the heavenly majesty of God who dwells therein. Stained glass created by Burne-Jones, tapestry by Sutherland, reflect a symbolism that encourages the Christian to look more deeply at the story of the image as well as to look more deeply at the impact it has upon them.

In the Church of England or Anglican community, churches can be found in all parishes in the country. Roman Catholic churches are fewer in number in the UK but also have traditional boundaries. A church is a ‘sacred space’ where God is worshipped and where, it is believed, God comes closer to humans and humans are able to come closer to God. The main function of a church is thus to offer prayer to God, through the example of Jesus Christ and the working of the Holy Spirit. The church is the main place of worship for the Christian community. The traditional plan for a church is the nave for the congregation, the chancel where the priest officiates, and the sanctuary which contains the altar. Within the church are numerous artefacts and symbols that aid worship, devotions and practice. The font, the altar, the crucifix and cross, candles, stained glass windows, pulpit and lectern, all have symbolic and practical uses.

A chapel is a place of worship in the Christian tradition belonging to non-conformist groups such as the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church, and the Baptist Church (the word is also used for individual parts of larger churches). Most non-conformist chapels are less ornate but have similar features and artefacts to a parish church, although they often place more emphasis on the pulpit and the preaching of God’s Word.

A Cathedral is the central church of a diocese which is the ‘Seat’ of the bishop . There are 42 dioceses in England, each having a cathedral in the main town or city of the diocese.

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