They don’t build ’em like they used to… or do they?

The Anchoress’s recent trip to Rome reminded her of how breathtakingly beautiful churches can be… and how churches in the States mostly aren’t.

Visiting Rome’s splendid, often ancient, churches, my husband and I, who attend newish, barely-decorated, kind-of-ugly churches that are heavy on the felt banners, had not realized how much we’d been missing beauty in our worship: decorative touches with meaning, a designer’s thought for the physical surroundings of our mystical worship. “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore,” was an undercurrent of our appreciation.

No, they don’t. Costs are prohibitive, tastes have changed and craftsmen and artisans specialize in different modes.

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They make not make ‘em like “that” anymore, but the new chapels of two religious communities give hope that perhaps the idea of beauty-in-worship is being reclaimed…

You’ll have to read the rest to see the chapels she names. And while these churches may still be the minority, it does seem like there has been a resurgence of interest lately in church architecture that doesn’t hail from the Wal-Mart school of design.

Critiquing ugly churches in the States is low-hanging fruit; instead, I thought it would be interesting to round up some recent examples of beautiful church architecture. In no particular order, a few that jumped to mind:

Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel, Thomas Aquinas College. I’m just forestalling the inevitable outcry from our resident TAC blogger, Joseph Susanka, if I hadn’t included this one. The architect, Duncan Stroik, could very easily be credited with the recent revival in sacred architecture; if this is the future, I’m all for it. You can see a complete virtual tour here, and be sure to check out that awesome confessional. I want to move my desk in there.

The Chapel of St. Cecilia at the Dominican Motherhouse in Nashville. Completed in 2005, I think the bright, airy interior perfectly complements the character of the sisters there. The design even strikes me as slightly feminine, in a way suited to a community of sisters. (Don’t worry, the interior color is more taupe than pink, the way it might appear here.)

Clear Creek Monastery in Oklahoma and the Carmelite Monastery in Wyoming. This may be cheating, as these chapels aren’t finished yet (the Carmelite monks haven’t yet begun construction), but if they manage to achieve what they have planned, these should be pretty spectacular chapels.

Two obvious shortfalls here, though: First, there aren’t any diocesan parishes on this list. All of these examples are from religious orders or institutions that can raise the massive funds needed for projects as grand as these. Anyone have examples of great new architecture on a smaller scale?

Second, you might say that all of these examples share a similar style. I’m sure there are plenty of architects out there who would be more than happy to explain the differences to me (and they should feel free), but I’d be interested to see examples with other architectural influences, too.

Got other great churches for the list? Have nitpicks with mine? You know what to do…


  • Margaret Cabaniss

    Margaret Cabaniss is the former managing editor of Crisis Magazine. She joined Crisis in 2002 after graduating from the University of the South with a degree in English Literature and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She now blogs at

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