Sunday, April 12, 2009

A modern altar

click photo to enlarge
The builders of churches have always been very aware of technological progress and fashion. When a new construction technique was devised - say the pointed arch that allowed wider spaces to be spanned and heavier loads to be carried than the existing rounded arches could manage - it soon spread across Europe as builders capitalised on the advantages that it conferred on their structures. Similarly, in the 1200s stylized foliage was preferred for the capitals of columns in England, but by the 1300s naturalistic carving of recognisable leaves, fruit and animals became the fashion, and held sway for many years. All this was very handy for architectural historians because it made it much easier to discern and describe a sequence of styles down the ages. The Victorians departed from this trend, when from the 1840s they tried to build in a Gothic style that looked authentically medieval. But, by the 1870s this had evolved into a recognisably C19 version of Gothic, and fashion re-asserted itself.

Today, the few new churches that are built are invariably of their time, using modern materials, methods and construction. However, they still usually carry an updated traditional motif or element - pointed windows, towers, fleches, etc - that signals "this is a church." The furnishings of churches vary in the degree of modernity that they exhibit. Where a new room is added inside a medieval building there is usually an attempt to "fit in" with the older fabric, and if it has an external wall a greater effort is generally made. Pulpits, altars and seating often combine a new style with traditional elements, though some progressive churches do commission furnishings with designs that don't draw on historical precedents: today's photograph is one such example. It shows an altar erected in 2005 at St Andrew, Holt, in Norfolk. The building has medieval elements dating back to the C14, but a fire in the C18 and vigorous Victorian restoration has altered the church more than many. Perhaps that made it easier to commission this very modern design when a Chapel of the Holy Sacrament was being established. It's the only altar I've ever seen that is bracketed off a wall. However, the elegant design, simple, but extremely striking lighting, and big flanking candlesticks make a very effective composition.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 16mm (32mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/15 seconds
ISO: 800
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On