Spirituality

/ Ana Teresa Cristobal / Conservation

Over the last 20 years or so church organisations have been making their spaces more accessible, inviting and multi-functional for the communities they serve, more civic. Our architectural interventions have served this need in a number of ways over this period, but now there is a reaction emerging from the churches and their communities, a desire for more spiritual space.

This Monday, we examined three of our current church projects in the light of this shift. but first we spent some time exploring our own notions of spiritual space, with everyone presenting an example. Being in a spiritual space or place helps to engender certain a state of mind and heart. Our discussions pointed to two linked and recurring themes:- firstly an awareness or sense of something immensely bigger than ourselves and secondly a separation from everyday life. In the particular places presented these themes were manifested in a number of different ways, with several often combined together.

•Sun or daylight entering a space in a way that suggests the source of light; perceived, connected to us but unreachable. This is often without a view out, increasing a sense of separation from the everyday. Light has a powerful symbolism, a trigger for a spiritual state of mind.

•Other symbolism embedded in the forms of a space can work on us similarly. Circular forms might suggest infinity or lofty spaces refer to the bigness of everything that is beyond us.

•Old objects can give us a sense of the extent of time and history way beyond our own lifespan. An example of this was paving near the Acropolis made from the stones of the classical city.

•Seeing the sky, particularly when its separation or distance from our life on the earth’s surface is most pronounced. One example was the astronomer’s observatory, a special space whose telescope encompasses the finite at one end and the infinite at the other.

•Enclosed spaces, but in this case with a view out over natural landscape; a sense of its bigness and your smallness at the same time as separation from the world. Several examples presented involved looking from a safe secluded place out through an opening into nature.

•Being in a ‘wild’ (ie unshaped by humans) natural landscape in itself is separation from the world in the sense of our normal habitat of towns and cities

•Actual quietness and lack of distraction allows mental quietness and a distance from everyday things - reflection

•Beauty gently moves our minds from their usual channels allowing mental quiet and reflection.

•Things that change our state of mind by their unfamiliarity – an example was a space filled with the most dazzling colour

•Old objects can give us a sense of the extent of time and history way beyond our own lifespan. An example of this was paving near the Acropolis made from the stones of the classical city.

•Many examples involved separation from the world by a journey such as a pilgrimage or a route within a building to a sanctuary.

In the three projects we examined, we are trying to reconcile the continuing civic and community multi-use with the desire for spiritual space. We are trying to identify possibilities for a sanctuary which can be a destination, reached by a journey though the plan. At the same time we are also keen to identify existing aspects of these spaces which stimulate a spiritual response and therefore require to be protected against the demands of practicality.


St. Marks Church