Lewis’ Appreciation of Architecture

I don’t have much of a gift for drawing, but I often find the simplest artwork quite engaging. Nor do I understand the mathematics necessary to become an accomplished architect—yet I definitely appreciate the majesty of finely designed buildings.

This, I recently learned, is another thing that I have in common with Jack Lewis.

We lunched at Wells after seeing the Cathedral. . . . I am no architect and not much more of an antiquarian. Strange to say it was Uncle H. with his engineering more than our father with his churchmanship that helped me to appreciate it; he taught me to look at the single endless line of the aisle, with every pillar showing at once the strain and the meeting of the strain (like a ship’s framework inverted); it is certainly wonderfully satisfying to look at. The pleasure one gets is like that from rhyme—a need, and the answer of it following so quickly that they make a single sensation. So now I understand the old law in architecture, “no weight without a support, and no support without an adequate weight.” (Letters of C.S. Lewis, 7 August 1921).

Lewis aptly describes how large cathedrals are built. Many “regular” churches display similar construction, albeit in more modest proportion. Like admiring the stained glass common to many houses of worship, gazing at their structural beauty can cause us to “lose ourselves” for a moment. Sometimes massive columns or graceful arches can even spark within us a sense of awe.

Awe inspiring architecture takes varied forms. It can be conveyed by simple scale. I have yet to visit Hagia Sophia (a dream I hold), but I have visited the Cathedral of Notre Dame. With the souvenir shops tastefully hidden away, it’s probably their age that most touches me.

The awareness that my brothers and sisters in Christ have offered prayers in each for nearly a millennia or more is sobering. And, I believe our wonderful friend C.S. Lewis was equally impressed by that fact.

Yes, huge sanctuaries are impressive, but a church does not need to be massive to impress. There is a modest church in Cambridge, England which my wife and I visited several times. It is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and it was inspired by the original Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Crusaders who had worshipped in Jerusalem carried home the vision of the simple edifice, and it was built in Cambridge around 1130.

When we lived in England, the congregation there was vibrant and reaching out to those without hope. Apparently shortly after we departed, it “outgrew” the facilities there and had to relocate to a larger building.

I don’t recall Lewis specifically mentioning this parish, although I can’t imagine him teaching at the University there and not at least visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. And when he entered the holy place, I can easily picture him joining me in admiration of the artistic symmetry of the arches and columns, “with every pillar showing at once the strain and the meeting of the strain.”

6 thoughts on “Lewis’ Appreciation of Architecture

  1. One of my favourite C.S. Lewis quotes is: “The perfect church service,would be one we were almost unaware of. Our attention would have been on God.” Enjoyed your post!

  2. I can’t help but feel sadness whenever I see a new “church campus” that looks like a movie theater or a glorified office building. Something has been lost in the worship of the twin gods of relevance and efficiency.

  3. I love architecture and all the thought that goes into designs.
    Never thought about the impact that age of the cathedrals play: a somewhat silent role – but you are right, all those of past stand there, too and bound to be noticed on a subconscious level.
    Agree with hayesworldview – don’t care for the”new” church campus architecture….something to be said for magnificence and awe to give perspective of place in the universe
    Great read, thanks

  4. Recently finished reading N.T. Wright’s “After You Believe” and he emphasizes the need for Christians to promote beauty in the world. A good place to begin would be a rebirth in the physical design of church buildings. Add a third voice to hayesworldview and philosophermouseofthehedge.

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