Sojourn Midtown now gathers in a century-old cathedral known for the majority of its life as the Church of St. Vincent de Paul. Largely because of its long association with Shelby Park, Smoketown, and the surrounding neighborhoods, we have chosen to keep calling the building “St. Vincent’s.” However, our frequent use of the name brings to mind a question we would be wise to ask: who was this namesake of our new cathedral? Continue reading
(This post is a vast revision of a previous article, recently rewritten for Sojourn Midtown’s move into our new St. Vincent’s Cathedral facility.)
Gothic architecture (and its revivals by default) was created for the specific purpose of corporate worship space. Originating in the rebuilding of the Abbey Church of Saint-Denis by Abbot Suger in the 12th Century, the style was meant to instill a sense of awe, of inward and outward meditation, and to convey spiritual truth in simultaneous experience. Here are a few key highlights of the Gothic-style church building that we can see in Sojourn Midtown’s new worship space, the former St. Vincent de Paul Church. Continue reading
We are entering what is known in our contemporary culture as the Christmas season. This is in many ways a misnomer, however. Ecclesiastically, the time known as Christmas begins Christmas Day and lasts the next twelve days. Christmas is the celebration of Christ’s coming, his first coming in Bethlehem a little over two thousand years ago, as well as his second coming (though this one tends to slip into the background). However the period leading up to Christmas, starting on the fourth Sunday prior and ending Christmas Eve, is called Advent. Advent anticipates Christmas, it commemorates the fact that God’s people were longingly awaiting their coming Messiah in spiritual darkness. We also await our Messiah… we await his return, whereupon he will expel the darkness (sin, death, and Satan) from this world once and for all. Continue reading
“Today, as yesterday, musicians, composers, liturgical chapel cantors, church organists and instrumentalists must feel the necessity of serious and rigorous professional training. They should be especially conscious of the fact that each of their creations or interpretations cannot escape the requirement of being a work that is inspired, appropriate and attentive to aesthetic dignity, transformed into a prayer of worship when, in the course of the liturgy, it expresses the mystery of faith in sound.” Continue reading
Recently I have had a couple of opportunities to wander through the Louisville structure built in the late 19th Century as St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church. This great old Gothic Revival structure, out of regular use since the early 1990s, was recently purchased by my church, Sojourn, in hopes of renovating it and using it for our four midtown Sunday services and other functions. While being much battered and neglected by almost twenty years of disuse, there is a sense of awe that is inescapable when one enters the old sanctuary. Even though the paint is peeling and lacks it’s old leaden luster, though the altar is barren of its former somewhat Marian magnificence, one cannot help but feel like one is in the presence of something transcending our current world. And this was fully intentional.
Gothic architecture (and its revivals by default) was created for the specific purpose of corporate worship space. Originating in the rebuilding of the Abbey Church of Saint-Denis by Abbot Suger in the 12th Century, the style was meant to instill a sense of awe, of inward and outward meditation, and to convey spiritual truths… all in simultaneous experience. Let us journey together through a few key highlights of the Gothic church as I reflect, in turn, on how these are still represented in the broken battlements of the old St. Vincent’s Church.
One does not have to journey inside St. Vincent’s to begin to experience the theological intentionality of the architecture. We instantly see the three doorways of the facade representing the divine Trinity, with this being made more explicit in the St. Vincent’s structure by the glass depiction of the a stylized Trinity symbol over the doorway. We also first see an element, though small now, that we will be overwhelmed with in the sanctuary, the stained glass window.
More explicit in medieval Gothic structures with their flying buttresses completing the shape of the entire building, the enormous Gothic arches (which come to a point, dissimilar from the rounded Roman-style arches typical of older basilicas) call to mind an overturned boat. One is to remember, when seeing this, three elements of spiritual history. We remember Noah, whose family alone was called out and preserved in an ark in the first destruction of the world. We remember that several of Christ’s original apostles were fishermen, and that he told Simon Peter he would make them “fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19). It has also been said that many a church meeting house in a new setting was begun by overturning the hull of a ship onto the land.
Abbot Suger was adamant that with grand, glorious windows “the whole [church] would shine with the wonderful and uninterrupted light of most sacred windows, pervading the interior beauty.” This was in high contrast to the often small ceiling windows of older Roman basilicas than often seemed dark, even in midday. No, there must be light, and so tall, great stained-glass windows stretched down the sides of the old cathedrals, filling them with enormous light. A highlight of these were the circular rose windows, normally on the facade of the building, though occasionally above the altar as well. Those visiting St. Vincent’s will note that the rose windows there are, in a strikingly dissimilar place, in the ends of the short transepts, crossing the building horizontally instead of their usual place at the vertical ends of the church. Notable is that only a few small windows in St. Vincent’s have significant representational images, a fitting contrast to the often vivid depictions of saints and Bible scenes, now that it is being taken over by a Reformed Protestant church. When one first enters st. Vincent’s, one is in the narthex largely absent of light, then taken into the sanctuary filled with it. Ex tenebris lux… out from darkness, light… the old abbot had it right again.
There are various other elements of the church I could point out. The high vaulted ceilings were created both to induce the feeling of singing to the heavens and to create the ambient echo gothic cathedrals are known for. The altarpiece situated in the middle of the apse (the semi-circular “stage” area at the front of the sanctuary) was to put Christ very literally at the center of all things. The transept horizontal wings crossing the center nave creates a Roman cross out of the whole building. These and more could all be exposited, but this is a blog post. There are others who have handled this much better in a host of art history books. For me, it is simple to say that I am glad of the rich spiritual history that gothic architecture has imparted in its structures, and that my Christian family is now the beneficiaries of a facility in that great tradition.
Helen Gardner’s Art Through the Ages (Harcourt College Publishers) and class notes from Prof. Curtis Chapman (Reinhardt College) and Dr. Steve Halla (SBTS).
(Illustration: a detail of one of the old St. Vincent de Paul’s smaller stained glass windows)
I started to call this a review. This isn’t really much of a review, though… it’s a commendation. I’m not even going to pretend to be unbiased on this one. For the past three and a half years now, I have been part of a church, Sojourn, that is engaging the arts in groundbreaking ways. Our congregation just happens to have been blessed to have dozens of talented writers, photographers, painters, singers, songwriters, and musicians, and God has used the outpouring of creativity to touch hearts in Louisville and across the world.
The latest offering from Sojourn is a split-EP of ten songs by two of our most gifted singer-songwriters. Jamie Barnes, our East Campus worship director, begins the collection with his EP The Mercy Seat. Our Midtown Campus worship director Brooks Ritter then takes his five on a spin, called The War. Each set, though diverse, seemingly runs loosely along themes, Jamie stating in the promotional video that his songs on the album veer toward the sense of desperation and longing that we feel for God, while Brooks’ songs veer toward the spiritual battle that we are in. Each side is a great mixture of complete originals and the artists’ well-crafted adaptations of age-old hymns from the likes of Isaac Watts and John Newton. So lyrical and yet theologically deep are the words by Jamie and Brooks that their songs and lyric adaptations stand seamlessly alongside the hymn verses of old. This is certainly odd in this day and time, but Sojourn, along with such artist collectives like Indelible Grace and Bifrost Arts, have begun to turn the tide on the typical theological and artistic drought in “Christian” music.
Jamie’s set runs the gamut in arrangement from the haunting piano and acoustic guitar-driven title track to the New Orleans-style funeral band backing of Watts adaptation “Absent from Flesh,” and even wrapping up with an uncharacteristic smooth jazz piece to finish off his side. Brooks begins his set with one of the heaviest numbers I have heard on a Sojourn album, “The War” and rightly so in a song dealing with the struggle against evil and its overcoming in the work of Christ. From there, he journeys through elements of rock, gospel, and newly arranged hymnody. Both these artists, with producer Neil Robins (of Dirt Poor Robins) have crafted EPs that would stand alone as great works (and you can buy them that way on iTunes if you so desire), but as a complete album they stand as a masterpiece that may be Sojourn’s best contribution to music world so far and an important milestone in the theological and artistic reclamation of church music.
Get “The Mercy Seat / The War” on BandCamp.
“For a Christian rhetoric, perspicuity is the foundation of all the canons of style. Clarity of thought must always be the preacher’s aim. Clarity is the basic beauty of eloquent oratory and the driving power that persuades one’s listeners. The beauty of teaching is making clear the truth, for it is in the truth itself, rather than in the words about truth, in which beauty is found. The truth itself, Augustine tells us, when presented in simplicity, gives pleasure because it is the truth. This is one of Augustine’s best insights. Here, a thousand years before the Protestant Reformation, one easily detects the guiding principle of Protestant plain style. Here is the foundation of the Protestant understanding of beauty.”
– Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church, Volume 2
HT: Douglas Wilson
“The idea that God, if there is a force of Logic and Love in the universe, that it would seek to explain itself is amazing enough. That it would seek to explain itself and describe itself by becoming a child born in straw poverty, in shit and straw . . . a child . . . I just thought: “Wow!” Just the poetry . . . Unknowable love, unknowable power, describes itself as the most vulnerable. There it was. I was sitting there, and it’s not that it hadn’t struck me before, but tears came streaming down my face, and I saw the genius of this, utter genius of picking a particular point in time and deciding to turn on this.”
- Bono, from Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas
“What is the means by which the demonic realm is vanquished? In a word: mockery. Satan’s great sin (and our great sin) is pride. Thus, to drive Satan from us we ridicule him. This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns and a tail. Nobody thinks the devil really looks like this; the Bible teaches that he is the fallen Arch-Cherub. Rather, the idea is to ridicule him because he has lost the battle with Jesus and he no longer has power over us…
The gargoyles that were placed on the churches of old had the same meaning. They symbolized the Church ridiculing the enemy. They stick out their tongues and make faces at those who would assault the Church. Gargoyles are not demonic; they are believers ridiculing the defeated demonic army.”
– James B. Jordan, “Concerning Halloween”