Modern Liturgical Art, A Few Examples

Gavin asked, so let me offer some examples of what I would consider sacred art and architecture informed by a progressive, reformist view of Vatican II.

I used to get tired of seeing/reading/hearing about it, but St James Cathedral in Seattle would be one example. Click on the link to see more of their exterior and interior. Here’s their baptismal font at the entry to the nave:

While I’m on the topic of renovations, naturally, I think my old parish in Waterloo, Iowa is way cool. Ditto my new parish.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral in Dodge City, Kansas is a great new church:

And I like Lowell Tasset’s work there, including these doors.

May artists are doing good work. The saints’ tapestries at the LA cathedral strike me as outstanding.

Considering artists working in modern media, I admire Nancy Chinn‘s paper sculpture:

Off the top of my head, those would be the first examples I can think of.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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13 Responses to Modern Liturgical Art, A Few Examples

  1. crystal says:

    Nice examples :-) The Ignatius chapel at Seattle University has some modern art too – here’s the baptismal font

  2. Jack Smith says:

    I do like the examples you’ve picked. A quibble is that they are only pieces of a whole.

    St. James also contains an altar that I’ve never seen a presider comfortable with. When the place ain’t packed there is no sense which side of the square the priest should stand at.

    And besides the truly wonderful tapestries at the Cathedral of the Queen of the Angels, there is the whole rest of it – including the exterior, which I’ve never seen defended, and a pretty near absence of the Queen herself (unless you count T-Pol standing guard outside).

    You might also add to your list the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption in San Francisco which has even more fine features than those above (e.g. the beauty and theology of the bronzes), but which as a whole has big flaws, again including the awful exterior.

    My question is – What do you mean by architecture informed by a progressive view? Isn’t progressive a moving target? How can architecture be a moving target?


  3. Todd says:

    Good observations, Jack.

    Gavin mainly asked for examples of art; we were discussing a paint job and wooden crates in some Boston basement. I added the architectural aspects.

    As for being pieces of a whole, that’s what we get in big churches anyway. Have we ever seen one artist responsible for the whole thing, big & small, inside & out? And if we found a panel of artists looking at more classical venues in Europe, would we find that many they would agree were 100% perfect in all details?

    Progressive architecture: that’s easy. Less slavish imitation of the past. Less reliance on other continents.

  4. MCNS says:

    Todd, each to his own taste, I know. But IMHO, Vosko’s work in Seattle might be deemed progressive only from the perspective of a Reformation altar-smasher. To replace this with this certainly is change, of a sort, but progress — no.

  5. Todd says:

    Well … tearing out the carpet is undoubtedly progress from both an aesthetic and acoustical viewpoint. And if you like clergy and servers crammed in those sanctuary pews like sardines.

    I think the original is not bad (sans carpet) for a church with about ten rows of pews.

    I prefer the new altar to the old: for a cathedral stone seems to have more gravitas than wood.

  6. Sherry Weddell says:

    Speaking as a native Seattlite, I have always loved the renovation of St. James Cathedral. I absolutely love the exquisite Marian chapel, the Scripture embedded in the dome, the pulpit, the fabulous acoustics which made it suddenly the best concert hall in town. the side hall with its stunning 15th century statue of the Virgin. (I should add I liked the old Cathedral as well – not being much of an architecture or liturgical critic, I was pretty open to any sort of beauty)

    I’ve attended the Easter Vigil there and it was the most glorious and splendid celebration of the Vigil I’ve ever experienced in 20 years as a Catholic.

    There are downsides: The Cathedral is a splendid place for great feasts but less well suited to regular liturgies and ordinary time. The elaborate processionals required by the altar seem ostentatious outside the great feast and yes, the celebrant is always going to have his back to some part of the congregation.

  7. Sherry Weddell says:

    And I meant to add: having worked a lot in the diocese of Dodge City, I also enjoyed the cathedral which is very consciously drawing upon the great plains that dominate the diocese. Sunflowers, wheat, beige & browns, and sunlight as some of the main inspirations.

    Western Kansas is a immense and pretty stark landscape whose beauty is real but not easy for everyone to appreciate. I’ve driven across it at least 8 times (that’s what you do in my business when you live next store) in all seasons and I call it the “empty quarter” after the great desert of Saudi Arabia.

    The locals often say they feel hemmed in by the mountains of Colorado and long for the vast, openness of the high plains. (Of course, one woman insisted it was so she could see a tornado coming!)

    I, too , wondered what you meant by “progressive” but if you mean drawing upon the culture and land of the people – yes, the Dodge city cathedral certainly does that. It isn’t a European cathedral at all – it is a plains cathedral.

  8. Gavin says:

    I like most of those except the Dodge City Cathedral, but then again I don’t give a lot of weight to my opinion of architecture.

    Progressive architecture: that’s easy. Less slavish imitation of the past. Less reliance on other continents.

    That sounds good in print, but I question if it really works. It goes without saying that in anything the American style is based on the European. What you might call “slavish imitation of the past” others might call “organic development”. Rarely do I see a church built which is entirely Gothic, but one might copy a Gothic style with or without some distinctives, and thus have a new style emerge.

    I still question the spirit of avoiding “slavish imitation of the past”. Dodge City cathedral looks more like a collection of hats than a church. I’m reminded of Bp. Boyea’s sermon where he says, talking to musicians, that we must not seek to “create a new church” with our singing. Architecture still retains an element of communication. And the simplest communication a new shape of building gives is “new faith”. And I don’t think that’s the impression a Catholic Church should give.

  9. Sherry Weddell says:


    I don’t get or buy it.

    The styles of churches has changed over and over – very dramatically – through the centuries. A gothic cathedral was not about “creating a new faith” from that celebrated in a Romanesque church much less from the faith celebrated in a Roman catacomb. If that were true, the Catholicism celebrated in a true Gothic cathedral would be a very different faith from the faith celebrated in a Baroque Austrian church and profoundly different from that celebrated in one of the simple adobe churches of 18th century New Mexico.

    The difference between the cathedral in Dodge and Notre Dame in Paris is no greater than between Notre Dame and the tiny Norman chapels in the Gower peninsula of south Wales or little Spanish churches of Northern New Mexico with their paintings of the Blessed Trinity that look like a trio of King Charles I’s in van dyke beards. Charles the Father, Charles the Son, and Charles the Holy Spirit.

    There is an enormous legitimate diversity in expressions of the Church’s faith – across the centuries and across cultures. If a “new faith” was created every time our churches have been given a new shape, than it is already too late. We are already utterly cut off from the faith of the early church.

  10. Liam says:

    I have not seen any shots of the interior of the cathedral in Dodge City, but my only complaint about the front exterior would be that the entrance portico looks cheap – like a hotel entrance – compared to the rest. It sticks out like a sore thumb in that visual ensemble, sad to say.

    This opinion can be discounted as one by someone who spent four very happy years on the Grounds of Mr Jefferson’s University…and believes that good architecture can inspire souls and minds and that mediocre architecture can halt that process.

    Also, I prefer basilican, Byzantine and Romanesque-inspired styles for large church spaces over Gothic – and prefer Gothic (oddly, since it was developed for fireproofing large vaulted spaces) for smaller spaces.

  11. Liam says:

    And, I should add, an acid test of any church space is its natural acoustics. The visuals follow.

  12. David Orth says:

    Hi, I’m jumping into this thread almost exactly 2 years since the last entry. I’m a liturgical artist trying to find some authentic way to contribute a vision that is both fresh and ancient. Balance is always a struggle so long as we are watching these elements compete with each other – these elements being “progressive” and “traditional” preferences in this case. As I design, I try to drop down into something below this struggle where I am in some kind of contact, however brief, with the question of creating a threshold, an invitation in the material world to consider also the spiritual world. In that place (below the usual competition), I find that tradition and progress are holding hands and listening to each other with some kind of common purpose and sincere question. I’ve written an essay about this and other issues facing the liturgical artist and I’d be delighted if others would take a look at it – and my small amount of work as well. – follow the links to the Liturgical Art portfolio and essay.

  13. i like both modern arts and classic arts because they both good ~

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