Day 100 – Mrs. Flusche’s Super Basic Primer on Church Architecture (Part V)

Wednesday, June 24, 2020 –

100 days!? I feel like I should mark this with a big cake or something, kind of like how TV shows celebrate their 100th episode with a weird recap show. Ehh…that sounds like a lot of work and calories. I will stick to the current theme: Church architecture.

Yesterday we built out most of the East “stuffs” in our ever-growing Church. I am going to add a few more things to the East, and even something for the transepts (WOOHOO!), but I want to start with building out a couple of things to the West: one old thing and one new thing. You know, it is important to keep a balanced building so that it does not topple to the ground!

Today we will be talking about the baptistry, choir loft (yes, THAT choir, not the other one we talked about yesterday), the ambulatory, a chevet or side chapel, and side altars.

Baptistry: this is typically a small room near the West entrance of a Church. Sometimes it is just in the narthex, as is my Church. The baptistry is made to house the Baptismal font.

Hold on! Let’s back up…

A baptistry used to be a whole separate building. Long ago, when there were droves of people lining up to be Baptized AND the Church required full immersion Baptism, the powers that built things decided a separate building would be needed. This was to accommodate the hordes of people wanting to accept the Faith, but also because unbaptized persons were not allowed into the Church. You can still visit some of these old baptistries in Rome, Pisa, and other ancient European cities.

As time moved on, whether it was out of expedience or a change in architectural fashion, the baptistry came to be attached to the Church building, usually near the West entrance. Sometimes you will find the baptismal font in the transept or just located in the back of the nave, rather than in a separate baptistry.

Nowadays, Churches will unfortunately plop their Baptismal font anywhere it fits (I’m looking at you Church with your oversized Baptismal font hanging out in front of the Tabernacle that you’ve shoved off to the side of your sanctuary! #SMH). To be clear, there actually are rules and statutes and stuff regarding “the dignity and suitability of the baptistery.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, #128).

The choir loft of St. Patrick’s Basilica in Montreal, Canada.

Choir Loft: okay, THIS choir loft is for what we call a choir today. Many times, a Church will have a loft (open upper floor) at the back of a Church for the organ and choir. Sadly, a lot of Churches have moved their choir to the front of their Church. I doubt they are trying to harken back to the olden days of choir where the religious and Priests would sit.

In order to keep a neater layout image (below), I am going to just show a picture of a choir loft rather than add it to the overall plan.

Ambulatory: from Latin verb ambulo, which means to walk. An ambulatory is literally a walkway around a Church. Typically, an ambulatory is found around the chancel and apse and has projecting side chapels, also known as chevets (see next section). You **can** have an ambulatory outside of a Church building, but usually it is built so that one side is the Church wall, while the other has columns or arches leading into a courtyard. In this case, it sometimes takes on an additional name: cloister.

Chevet or Side Chapel: sometimes, along the ambulatory you will find chevets, or small side chapels. These were built as a place to display and honor relics. Many times they were dedicated to Our Lady or a specific Saint, and sometimes they were used for private or small Masses, or to make devotional prayers.

One of the side altars at Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours in Montreal, Canada.

Side Altar:  in today’s Churches, these have sadly been replaced with statues on large pedestals, usually the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, on either side of the reredos (AKA “fancy back wall” that we will cover in a future post). But long ago, there were smaller side altars, usually found in the transepts. This was because there used to be a ton of Priests milling about, and they all had to say Mass daily. Okay, so there is more to the history than that, but basically there smaller side altars for Priestly use or private devotion (much like the chevets).

I think that is good enough for today. Tomorrow is going to be a bit of a side journey into ancient architecture.

Heart of Jesus, Sacred Temple of God, pray for us!

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