Holy Ghost Hole

Holy Ghost hole, Saints Peter and Paul Church in Söll

Anybody ever notice such a hole in the ceiling? Or plan to put one in a new church building? According to the wiki:

In the Middle Ages, cathedrals and great churches throughout Western Europe were fitted with a peculiar architectural feature known as a Holy Ghost hole: a small circular opening in the roof that symbolized the entrance of the Holy Spirit into the midst of the congregation. At Pentecost, these Holy Ghost holes would be decorated with flowers, and sometimes a dove figure lowered through into the church while the narrative of Pentecost was read. 

Obviously, this is more than just a leak to let the rain in. While I doubt the Holy Spirit is impeded by a solid ceiling, still it’s a delightful tradition. I’ve heard of worse expressions during the liturgical year: Jesus zip-lining into a manger from the choir loft, priests riding donkeys on Palm Sunday to name two. 

I suppose some considerations might include:

  • The hole should be over the assembly, not the sanctuary.
  • Rose petals through the hole strike me as a best practice. Not a bird on a wire.
  • How to give access to the space between the roof and ceiling: most modern constructions lack this.
  • On that last point, it might be too costly to install that upper space. Maybe just blowing out petals from a balcony might be enough. 

Any ideas on how to build and how to utilize such a thing?

Image credit from the wiki: Saints Peter and Paul Church in Söll, Austria.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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3 Responses to Holy Ghost Hole

  1. Liam says:

    The Holy Ghost usage of the Heiliggeistloch is an after-the-fact exploitation of apertures in vaulting.

    That said, I am aware of the custom being an inspiration for glazed depictions of the Holy Spirit in an oculus of the vault over the sanctuary and/or tabernacle. Not about the Holy Spirit being poured out upon the assembly, though.

    • Todd says:

      Interesting. That the laity would be considered excluded from the Spirit is not surprising: another medieval impoverishment in theology.

      • Liam says:

        Well, it’s not surprising since the main sanctuary itself, especially in large churches, was often out of sight of the laity – obscured either by veils, a screen, pulpitum/jube, or choir stalls of considerable height. The laity would be able, however, to see priests celebrating at side altars and chapels. The laity also might be conducting its own business in the nave, too. They were unlikely to be receiving Communion during Mass except on Easter Sunday and its octave and other special occasions.

        That said, my favorite depiction of Pentecost in a prominent western church is not placed over the main sanctuary, but over a crossing before it: that is the mosaic of Pentecost in the central dome of the Basilica San Marco in Venice, a church that was modeled after the famous Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople – under the central dome of which the emperor and patriarch would exchange the Pax.

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