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Roman Catholic Church Essay

Two of the most influential and enduring styles of architecture are the Renaissance and Baroque styles. Loved for their unique and exciting addition to the “gene pool” of architecture, these two styles emerged almost successively. Renaissance architecture emerged during the 17th century giving Rome a distinctive beauty and grandeur (Patrick, p. 97). Grundmann & Furst (1998) said that some of the latter style’s favourite devices are compactness, the dominance of the overall form rather than individual parts, and dynamic features and rhythms in the movement (p. 162). St.

Peter’s basilica and II Gesu, two of the most important and popular churches of the world, exhibit these styles, respectively. St. Peter’s Basilica, an epitome of Renaissance architecture, is a collaborative work of different artists and architects of all time. It took nearly 225 years to complete what is seen today – a landmark and a symbol of the power of the Roman Catholic Church. It was Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman emperor who ordered a basilica on the Vatican Hill with its altar to be positioned on the spot where St. Peter was buried (Langmead & Garnaut, p. 296).

The church, which was ultimately dedicated to St. Peter, fell into decay when the papal residence was transferred to Avignon, France in 1377. Dubbed as the largest church until 1989, St. Peter’s Basilica has a floor area of 1. 5 hectares. It is located in Vatican City, Italy. All the popes commissioned their own architect or artist to build and contribute something to this magnificent basilica. Bernardo Rosellino was commissioned by Pope Nicolas V in 1452 to build a new apse in the west side; however, upon the death of the pope, work stopped and only the foundations and tribune had been constructed.

Giuliano da Sangallo under Pope Paul II continued the work left but none of the three popes who followed pursued the project. Donato Bramante, the winner of the design contest initiated by warrior-pope Julius II also added to this basilica. He proposed a Greek cross (all four sides equal), which was unacceptable because of the centrally planned theme of the church. One of the cross’ arms was lengthened to form the traditional Latin cross (Langmead & Garnaut, p. 297). Other architects who toiled for St.

Peter’s were the following: Rafaello da Urbino, proponent of an elongated central nave with three aisle on either side; Raphael Sanzio; Antonio da Sangallo the Elder, Baldassarre Peruzzi, Andrea Sansovino; and Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, who revived Bramante’s plan. Michelangelo Buonarro, commissioned by Pope Paul III, reduced the floor area by 40 percent and designed three apses and the dome. He retained Bramante’s cupolas and made one single doorway entrance as well as a steeper dome on a drum and surrounded by a lantern. By the time he died in 1564, only one apse and the drum of the dome were completed (Langmead & Garnaut, p.

297). Pirro Ligorio and Giacomo da Vignola succeeded the great Michelangelo. Tasked by Pope Gregory XIII, Giacomo della Porta who was assisted by Domenico Fontana vied for a hemispherical dome while Carlo Maderno, under Pope Gregory XIV installed a Latin cross, a narthex, and a nave flanked by chapels. The famous facade of the church is also a work of Maderno. Critics have termed it a “vandalism and a crime against architecture” because it conceals every part of the church from a viewer who is situated in St. Peter’s square (McGregor, 2005, p. 159).

Pilasters separate the two-storey facade into bays, with its central one copying a Greek temple front. As final touches, Gian Lorenzo Bernini designed a baldachin beneath the dome, St. Peter’s chair, a travertine portico as well as an elliptical piazza. The former, which can be regarded as both a product of architecture as well as sculpture, is the monumental bronze canopy that occupies the space underneath Michelangelo’s dome, and is supported by four twisted columns (Patrick, p. 99). St. Peter’s chair is bronze-made, endowed with a dramatic scene of the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a single center window reflecting light.

Other works also include the colonnade that frames the Maderno’s facade, the holy water containers (or stoups), the tombs of Popes Alexander VII and Urban VIII, the marble pavement, and the angels that stand guard on the bridge leading away from the church across the river (Patrick, p. 100). Figure 1. Basilica of Constantine (Scotti, 2006 p. x) Figure 2. Basilica of Julius (Scotti, 2006 p. x) The interior of the basilica is just as grand as its exterior, with its gold and marble decoration.

Statues and colossal monuments graciously adorn it; of note are the eighteenth-century statue of Charlemagne, another one on the right representing Constantine, and a bronze statue of St. Peter on a throne making a benediction. The latter was done by sculptor Arnolfo di Cambio. The church piers, designed by Bernini, each hold a statue of a principal character directly related to Christ. Two of them are dedicated to St. Andrew and St. Veronica, respectively. St. Longinus, a previous Roman centurion convert, also has a sculpture by Bernini on the base of one of the piers. A huge statue of Helen, Constantine’s mother is located in another.

Other monuments include that of Sixtus IV, the sarcophagus of the Roman prefect of 359, Junius Bassus, and a papal monument by Pollaiuolo. It was Gian Lorenzo Bernini who did most of the incredible work still seen today in the basilica. An important contribution is the shrine intended for the throne of St. Peter. Made up of ivory panels decorated with floral motifs and scenes from the legend of Hercules, the throne was believed to be St. Peter’s and it asserted papal claims of representing the legitimate apostolic succession (McGregor, 2005, p. 162). In addition to this, the four doctors of the church – St.

Augustine, St. Ambrose, St. Athanasius and St. John Chrysostom – have been erected with statues, complete with angels and the dove of the Holy Spirit to further affirm the claims of the church. The monument of Barberini Pope Urban VIII stands on the right of the tombs flanking the shrine while Pope Paul III’s monument is accompanied by Justice and Prudence. The basilica consists of a cruciform building with walls that bend perfectly to the curves. There are also arched windows, blind arcades and massive aedicule as well as an inflated entablature that forms the attic story above (McGregor, 2005, p.

164). There are a few things that were retrieved from Old St. Peter, namely two monumental equestrian statues as well as the center door. Another valuable which is housed in the basilica is Michelangelo’s Pieta, his only signed work, completed when he was only 23. The chapels along both sides enclose the tombs of cardinals, popes and other religious figures from the 17th through the 19th centuries (McGregor, 2005, p 160). An architectural affirmation of the spiritual supremacy of the Pope: Bishop of Rome, Supreme Pontiff, and successor to St.

Peter (Blanning, 2007, p 356), the basilica is sometimes referred to as martyrium or a covered cemetery. The church was built in such a way that the monument traditionally identified as the burial place of Peter protruded through its floor. Aside from this unusual arrangement, a transept – a space where the cult of the martyr was celebrated – can be seen between the naves of the five aisles and its apse (p. 152) To address the needs of its users and devotees, St. Peter’s basilica has undergone yet another set of architectural modifications and additions.

A chapter house was built to serve as the house of the permanent clergy (McGregor, 2005, p 152). The floor of the apse and central area of the transept were raised to accommodate a high altar above as well as a buried shrine. The latter is called the confessio, a crypt-like substructure, with a hall directly leading towards the shrine of St. Peter. The strategic location of St. Peter’s basilica is highly responsible for the increase in its devotees and pilgrims. However, being close to the center of civic life offered a not-so-private haven for the clergy. According to McGregor (2005),

this is the reason why the medieval popes prefer the Lateran palace on the far edge of the city to be its government center (p. 153) and until today, it functions as the basilica of the Bishop of Rome while St. Peter’s serves as the papal residence and papal bureaucracy center (p. 154). The renovation of St. Peter began as one of the ambitious project of a long line of popes when Vatican was declared as the spiritual and governmental center of the Roman Church and the city of Rome. St. Peter was constructed with a building that is indicative of the major trend in architecture then – the Renaissance Style.

This happened during the time of Julius II with Donato Bramante as his architect. Bramante was faced with a very difficult task of maintenance and integration. Being fond of and respectful of the classical building styles, he knew that the then state of the church – with its transept between nave and apse – was the main goal of pilgrimages from around the world for over a thousand years. Because the previous architects have neither utilized the sophisticated building techniques nor the classical building styles, Bramante realized he had more freedom to imagine and incorporate both modern and traditional styles (McGregor, 2005, p 155).

Bramante primarily used stone. For the core of the great piers, concrete was employed. Circular plans and centrally planned domed churches were the “fashion “during the 16th century. Most architects and artists, i. e. Leonardo da Vinci, utilize them in their designs. There have been issues on the reorientation of the basilica during the time of Bramante when he planned for the new basilica. Pope Julius II rejected the idea of allowing the basilica to face towards the north-south axis to which it will directly face the obelisk or “the monument of Julius Caesar” (Wyke, 2006, p.

123). Bramante positioned Julius II’s tomb in axis with the altar, St. Peter’s tomb as well as the obelisk. The church of the Santissimo Nome di Gesu (The Most Sacred Name of Jesus) simply known as II Gesu is a classic example of Baroque architecture. Built in 1568, it is considered Rome’s center for the most powerful Counter-Reformation religious order, the Society of Jesus, founded by St. Ignatius de Loyola. The man responsible is Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese’s architect; although he was replaced by della Porta in 1571.

Farnese is the patron and benefactor of Gesu. The oval plan for the design of the church, which deviated from the centrally planned architecture of St. Peter, is another first from Vignola (see Figure 3). This type of plan is also typical of Baroque because of its dynamic directional movement, in contrast to the static circular rotunda, which characterizes High Renaissance calm and harmony (Watkin, 2005, p. 243). Regarded as the most appropriate spatial form for churches, the Latin-cross-ground-plan adhered to the practical and theological requirements of the Counter-Reformation order.

According to McGregor (2005), Vignola’s hybrid of Bramante’s central plan and Michelangelo’s traditional long nave of the Roman basilica with his own plan for Gesu (p 292) became the norm for Jesuit churches throughout Europe and the New World. It likewise influenced Maderno’s remodelling of St. Peter and the interior design of S. Andrea. On the other hand, the II Gesu also had its influences and inspirations from the works of different artists. Of note here is the design of the facade and interior of S. Spirito in Sassia by Sangallo, who derived from late-quattrocento Florence (Grundmann & Furst, 1998, p.

120). The Pantheon also showed great weight on the success of this remarkable Baroque church. Figure 3. Plan of the Gesu by Vignola (Watkin, 2005, p. 242). Just like St. Peter’s basilica, II Gesu is also provided with a two-storey facade. This is made possible by Giacomo della Porta in 1571 who chose large scrolls to smoothen the transition to the higher central portion (Watkin, 2005, p. 242). The three wall layers are adorned gradually, thus the central section is the one endowed with all the design elements.

The latter, which is also wider, serves as the culmination of the entire facade. As requested by the benefactor, the church was created with one wide but short nave with three side chapels (with alters) on both sides and two aisles and was barrel-vaulted. As one enters the church, an unobstructed view of the crossing and altar is offered by this particular feature of the nave. The crossing, which is dominated with light, is an important aspect of the church for it is the basis of the entire architectural concept. In Grundmann & Furst (1998), it is stated,

Praised for its beauty and functionality, the combination of a short nave and crossing, which portrays a fusion of a longitudinal and centrally planned area, became the popular style in Roman Catholic Europe. An aedicule (although double) with segmented and triangular gables extending into the base-course area of the upper storey is likewise found in Gesu church. (p. 174) Another feature of this church is the preaching hall with a clear view of the High Altar for the Jesuits’ convenience. Evident of Baroque style, the architect orchestrated the interplay of light and dark through the last bay of the nave and the light from the dome.

In Gesu, movement is a little faster and more dynamic because of the small interval of the spaces between the double pilasters which divide the nave. Gesu also had an adjoining crossing with drum dome, transept and choir, just like the basilica (Grundmann & Furst, 1998, p. 173). Lattice-work galleries have been given spaces by keeping the chapels at the end of the arcades low. Color is one more aspect that adhered to the calls of the Counter Reformation; grey was chosen for the capitals and bases of the double pilasters while the shafts and barrels were white stucco plastering.

Rich decoration can only be observed on the side chapels as well as frescos for the dome and mosaics for the apse. The work of Michelangelo in St. Peter’s basilica is unparalleled. The movement exemplified in the exterior as well as the meeting of vertical and horizontal planes far exceeded the works of other architects and artists. The dome, which united with the drum, formulated the crown of ecclesiastical buildings in a completely new way, which was to become obligatory for the next two centuries (Grundmann & Furst, 1998, p. 121).

The Renaissance style perceived the exterior only as a reflection of the interior while the works of Vignola like Figure 4. Gesu Interior ((Grundmann & Furst, 1998, p. 173) the Villa Guilia, S. Andrea in Via Flaminia, the palace in Caprarola and others proved that a divergence between the interior and exterior is also interesting. Motion is also portrayed by Vignola in most of his works including the Gesu through its arcades and double pilasters. Finally, the Baroque architecture of the II Gesu succeeded in achieving something that the Renaissance period did not.

This referred to the widespread and acceptability of the Roman style in Italy, Germany, and France (Grundmann & Furst, 1998, p. 162). The Baroque style opts to consider not the individual parts, as is the focus of Renaissance, but the overall appearance or the whole piece of work. During the last days of the building of St. Peter, town planning was common while it was fixation and the establishment of urban order that characterized the time of Gesu. The latter may be attributed to the proliferation of the Counter-Reformation attitudes. The transition of the intensity of the decoration in Gesu facade is a distinguishable trait of the Gesu.

Indeed, every period leaves an indelible mark in the course of history. Whether their contributions are widely accepted or automatically rejected, they help shape every aspect of life as it is today. Specifically, in architecture, what has been presently achieved can be undeniably owed to some of the masters of the periods of Renaissance and Baroque, where great minds sculpted, drew, and built some of the greatest pieces of art and form. The study and analysis of these different pieces of masterpieces pose not only challenges and pressures but also inspiration and hope for the future of art and architecture.

References Blanning, T. (2007). The Pursuit of Glory: Europe, 1648 – 1815. Viking. Grundmann, S. & Furst, U. (1998). The Architecture of Rome: An Architectural History in 400 Individual Presentations. Edition Axel Menges. McGregor, J. H. (2005). Rome from the Ground Up. Harvard University Press. Scotti, R. A. (2006). Basilica: the Splendor and the Scandal: Building St. Peter’s. Viking. Watkin, D. (2005). A History of Western Architecture. Laurence King Publishing. Wyke, M. (2006). Julius Caesar in Western Culture. Wiley-Blackwell.


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