Visiting speaker provides formation on Church Architecture

God's Holy Places

14 August 2013


The Christchurch Diocese faces a huge task in the building, re-building and restoration of its churches. This challenge was addressed in a number of seminars by visiting architectural historian and theologian, Dr Denis McNamara of the Liturgical Institute, Chicago. Bishop Jones invited Dr McNamara to speak about church architecture as a "built form of theology". The last week of July saw him address clergy, lay faithful and Christians of other traditions, along with Christchurch engineers and architects, under the title "God's Holy Places."

On Thursday 1 August, Dr McNamara spoke to a large, attentive and appreciative audience at the Wigram Air Force museum. In introducing him, Director of the Bishop's Pastoral Office, Mike Stopforth, outlined the seriousness of the current situation. He stated that in the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch, "five churches have been demolished, seventeen churches are damaged or earthquake-prone, leaving only eleven churches open and operating".

In prefacing his remarks, Dr McNamara asked the Lord to "send us the gift of knowledge of beauty, that will lead souls to You. Send us the gift of wisdom, that we may know how to please You and the prudence to do it well. In all things, send us hope and and healing, so that, like the resurrected Christ, Your Church may be radiant with divine love."

In addressing the question `should we be feeding the poor?" rather than spending money on buildings, Dr McNamara stated "Of course, of course, we feed the poor with food and their souls with beauty." He went on to observe "The Church is the only place where the Billionaire and the homeless person can shake hands at the sign of peace."

In outlining the purpose of a Catholic Church, Dr McNamara stated, "When you see a church that's filled with imagery of heaven, shown with everything in order, glorified and radiant, based on the notions of "the new heaven and the new earth" from the book of revelation, what you're actually seeing is the place where there is no mourning, no weeping, where all is in right order and right relationship and where chaos has been replaced by cosmos. For us", he

said, "the ordinary form to participate in heaven is to go to Mass." In answering the question "Is there a place for modern architecture?" Dr McNamara quoted the Orthodox tradition which upholds that "Its perfectly legitimate to search for new forms, but these forms must express a symbolic content that remains the same because it has a heavenly origin."

Dr McNamara reflected that "Architectural theology, truth and the mercy and love of God to me are all completely intertwined." He said that it is wonderful to bring "the love of God to the world through something they love to look at. This is the great gift of architectural theology." He summed up by saying "Church architecture is the built form of theology, which is why it is so important to get the ideas right first." His visit to Christchurch was curtailed as very sadly, his gravely ill father died during last week.

You can find out more about Dr McNamara by simply googling his name which will lead you to some YouTube clips of his teaching and to details of his two books on principles of church architecture. You can also hear him on "Sounds Catholic" by going to

Read the article in the Christchurch Press here

Go to the series of videos on You Tube by Dr McNamara

About Denis McNamara:


Dr. Denis McNamara is assistant director and faculty member at the Liturgical Institute of the University of Saint Mary of the Lake, a graduate programme in Liturgical Studies founded by Cardinal Francis George of Chicago in the year 2000, where he teaches courses on the Liturgical Movement, Liturgical Art and Architecture, Liturgical Inculturation, and Sacramental Aesthetics.

He holds a BA in the History of Art from Yale University and a PhD in Architectural History from the University of Virgin-ia, where he concentrated his research on the study of ecclesiastical architecture of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Dr. McNamara makes a specialty of bridging the gap between the Church’s great artistic tradition and the documents of the Second Vatican Council. He has also done ground-breaking research on the sacramental meaning of the classical architectural tradition.

He has served on the Art and Architecture Commission of the Archdiocese of Chicago and works frequently with architects and pastors in church renovations and new design. He has appeared on Catholic and secular television and radio, and is a frequent presenter in academic as well as parish settings.
Dr. McNamara is the author of numerous articles on art and architecture and has authored three books.