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Learning the Language of Church Architecture

Online Edition:

March 2012

Vol. XVIII, No. 1

Learning the Language of Church Architecture

by Helen H. Hitchcock

Book Review

How to Read Churches: A Crash Course in Ecclesiastical Architecture
by Denis R. McNamara
2011 New York. Rizzoli International Publications.
Paperback. 256 pages. $17.95.

How to Read Churches: A Crash Course in Ecclesiastical Architecture, a pocket-sized book on church architecture, copiously illustrated with engravings, is a compact “decoder” of church buildings. It concisely traces the stylistic development of ecclesiastical architecture — from biblical times to the present.

The book is well titled. As well as being a grammar of styles of church structures, this book is a mini-encyclopedia that describes and explains (and illustrates) virtually everything one finds in churches, inside and outside: the floor plan, facades and portals, vaulting, domes, spires, bell towers, windows and stained glass, altars and tabernacles, images — even the hardware on doors… You get the idea. It would be an ideal travel companion when visiting churches of any period, at home or abroad; and an indispensable guidebook for anyone interested in learning to “read” church architecture with understanding.

Denis McNamara, associate director of the Liturgical Institute in Chicago, is the author of the highly acclaimed Catholic Church Architecture and the Spirit of the Liturgy (2009), Heavenly City: The Architectural Tradition of Catholic Chicago (2005), and many articles. Dr. McNamara is a member of the Society of Architectural Historians, Society for Catholic Liturgy and the Institute for Classical Architecture. He has also contributed articles to The Adoremus Bulletin — the most recent, “A Triumph of Sacred Architecture”, on the chapel at St. Thomas Aquinas College, appeared in April 2009.

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Helen Hull Hitchcock