In the film we see today, we explore the relationship between belief and architecture, essentially how an idea is given concrete form - and always remember the rule of F3 (Form Follows Function). I'm sorry that this film gets a little art-historical in parts, but it's just an excellent guide to how the buildings teach theology, and a rather complex theology at that. Remember the quote about Banaras being a living text of Hinduism? Well, these churches are living texts of Catholic Christianity. People used to call Gothic architecture "Christian" architecture as if it was the only appropriate means of teaching the Catholic faith.
Christians began with a set of ideas, and also a set of practices and rituals, mainly developed from Judaism. Over time, they developed their own customs, above all the central institution of the Mass, the Lord's Supper, the Eucharist, and evolved buildings in which these liturgical events could be carried out. They were in a sense theaters, in the sense of places to see God made flesh and blood in the bread and wine (remember by the way that Hindu practice stresses viewing the Gods, darshan). When looking at a church, or any sacred building, think first what it is FOR - and of course, these rules apply to Orthodox or Catholic churches, but not Protestant - we'll deal with those next time.
Note how the church evolves from imperial buildings and particularly judgment halls, ie images of Power and kingship, justice and authority. A "basilica" is literally a hall of a king or emperor, from basileios, "king"). What message does this send about the concept of God in the Christian tradition? Note that God, like the king, is "out there", not within the individual. How does this view compare with other periods of Christianity, or other religions? Note too how the idea of heavenly judgment supercedes that of earthly criminal justice.
What is the connection between the Eucharist, the Mass, and the concept of judgment?
To understand just how far the shapes of church buildings are conditioned by what goes in them, just imagine what Christian churches would look like if the main events in the faith were, eg meditation, liturgical dance, sacred labyrinths…. Once again, remember F3. How different might the building be if God were imagined as She, as Loving Mother, rather than as male, as King-Emperor and Lord of Hosts? Would we, for instance, see more circles, spirals, cups, wells, chalices?
Another point: how does the concept of pilgrimage shape the various buildings? How do Christian pilgrimage sites compare with some of the ones we have looked at in Hinduism, for instance?
So, some questions to think about:
*Just why do so many (still) see Gothic, spires, stained glass etc, as pure "Christian" architecture?
*And why does Christianity not enforce the iron rules against depicting supernatural beings found in traditions like Judaism and Islam?
*What lessons do these buildings teach us about hierarchies, in this world and the next?
*How far do intermediary figures supercede the central importance of God and Christ? Were the later protestant reformers justified in seeing this as a deformation of Christianity? How would a Catholic or Orthodox believer answer such charges?
*How far do these artistic traditions reflect the needs and values of a largely non-literate society?
*Why were individuals and communities prepared to spend such unimaginably vast amounts of money and resources to build churches like this?
*Remember our discussion of the processional cross in the museum: when we just see such buildings as cold and static, what are we missing about the nature of the ceremonies that would have gone on within them? How would this have appealed to the various senses?