Thursday, April 29, 2010

St. Joseph Ukrainian Catholic Church

It's been my experience that the Eastern branches and populations of Christianity (Greek Orthodox, Ukrainian, Russian) really don't care much what the outside of the church looks like - they're sticking with traditional styles on the inside, no matter how bizarre the resulting contrasts may be.

And so it is with St. Joseph Ukrainian Catholic (1975, architect Zenon Mazurkevych), another one of those churches that seems like an alien spaceship that landed from another world. Even though it is surrounded by MidCentury houses and flats, their conservative style does nothing to prepare you for this rocketship of a building.

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On the outside, it's almost entirely concrete and glass. A large central dome is surrounded by a dozen reflective glass tube towers, each structured in tiered concrete and topped with a smaller gold dome, representing Jesus and his disciples. The only ornament consists of small crosses atop each dome.

Inside, however, it's a completely different story.

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Ornate and rich, the traditionally styled artwork is impressive in its complexity, but it simply doesn't work with the barebones nature of the building. It doesn't even try.

There's no hiding the modern structure of the space, of course, but the iconography sure as heck tries!

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Turn away from the center, and a few bits of Modern style reveal themselves, undiluted by the traditional artwork. The only contemporary decoration is the lamps in the tower, and they have not been maintained, as many of the globes are broken and missing.

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It seems like a surprisingly simple space, but in truth that's a result of the clashing art styles. In a properly decorated building, art and architecture merge into one entity. Here, however, the art exists separately from, and in opposition to, the building that contains it. Neither enhances the other, leaving both feeling incomplete and lacking.

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It's a bit baffling why a congregation would choose such a space age building design, then do a complete about-face on the interior. It's a disappointment, as the exterior is truly mind-blowing. And there are plenty of churches where the artwork would be a beautiful enhancement of the interior volumes - but this is not one of them.

St. Joseph's Ukrainian Catholic Church

3 comments:

Chase said...

I would never have guessed the interior to look like that! I do wonder, however if the more traditional elements are original to the design or if they were added later. It would be interesting to track down some photographs of the place right after it was built. Unfortunately, I've seen too many wonderful mid-century churches renovated in the name of 'tradition.'

Chase said...

So, according to this, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Joseph_the_Betrothed_Ukrainian_Greek_Catholic_Church

It appears that the iconostasis (the ornate sanctuary screen) was installed in 1980 and a good amount of the interior was painted with icons in 1996.

This place probably looked very different in 1975...

Anonymous said...

It did look very different in the 1970-80s. The interior was bare unpainted concrete. This relatively poor congregation could not afford a lot of expensive improvements. It was left unfinished for many years. in the late '80s and '90s, the interior was decorated in a very traditional style painted by local artists like most Ukrainian churches. When you enter a Ukrainian catholic church you are supposed to be leaving the secular world to that of God. The interior reflects that transition.