Trent’s Architectural Heritage

Elizabeth Lev’s Zenit feature looks at the post-Trent building spree in Rome. She focuses on the Gesù, the mother church for the Society of Jesus. Visibility and audibility were important considerations for 16th century architects, and the Jesuits weren’t afraid of innovation appropriate to the day:

… (P)reaching became more important during this period. The Jesuits were instrumental in introducing greater emphasis on homilies and in the huge nave of the Gesù, there was space for hundreds to gather around the pulpit to hear their stirring preachers.

Cardinal Seán blogged on this church last Fall, and on the left, here’s one of his images of the pulpit. (Click his link for more pictures of the Gesù interior.)

In the more expansive shot below, you can see the pulpit halfway down the nave.

Rood screens, which separated the presbytery from the nave, were removed after Trent, to allow the congregation to see the altar and liturgy more clearly. The altar was raised up on steps and the sanctuary defined by a low rail. … For the Rome of 1585, the Gesù was a revolutionary structure while still respecting the tradition of the early Christian Church.

A form of participatio by observation resulted:

From the nave, the faithful saw the priest’s numerous gestures; 27 signs of the cross, five genuflections and most significantly, the raising of the Host amid incense and ringing bells.

The altar was a block of stone, resembling a tomb or sepulcher, vividly reminding the flock of Christ’s death and burial. …


With the same intensity of St. Ignatius’ spiritual exercises, the Tridentine churches and liturgies invoked all the senses, exhorting the faithful to ” love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark
12:30).

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to Trent’s Architectural Heritage

  1. Talmida says:

    I wonder if those pews are a recent addition.

    I thought that seats were only for the nobility and the clergy. The simple faithful got the privilege of standing (or kneeling) on marble floor for the duration (that was the “with all your strength” part).

  2. Pingback: Article: Post-Trent Churches «

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