The Pendulum of Architectural History and Theology

February 25, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

Wander round the back of the brutalist Brunswick Centre (Patrick Hodgkinson, the architect: No, it’s not brutalist! Stop saying that!) in Bloomsbury. If you ignore collapsed piles of free books, and brush past a wall full of assorted leaflets for plays and concerts and other art and/or entertainment, you can descend to a basement that smells of florescent lighting and old books stacked, racked, piled, on every available surface. This is Skoob Books, the palindromic purveyor of second-hand reads. Not the cheapest shop, but with an extensive selection and knowledgeable staff. And they have a whole section dedicated to Nikolaus Pevsner.

hot cross bun, creme fraiche, a mug of tea, Nikolaus Pevsner's "European Architecture"Grabbed his European Architecture (£3) for a nice half-term browse. The development of European architecture and the changes in building styles detailed by Pevsner are fascinating. To describe an architectural style, he says, it is necessary to describe its individual features. But the features alone do not make the style. There must be one central idea active in all of them, and that idea was a reflection of the zeitgeist of the age.

For example, the flat-roofed thick-walled buildings in the Romanesque style came after a period of great political and social upheaval in the “Dark Ages”. The massive tall shafts of churches (some re-using Roman columns from destroyed temples) spoke of stability and security and certainty in 1000 A.D. – 1200 A.D.. This was the time of pilgrims and knights, of monasteries and thick round castles with small slit windows.

Next came the Gothic period (1140 – 1500). Along with the beginning of scholasticism came the expressed enjoyment of God’s creation and the idea of praising God in art; in the breathtaking heights of rib-vaulted naves held up by slender piers and embellished with liernes; in ogee arches; in spires that reached heavenward; in three-tier arcades; in rich stained glass clerestory windows; in lavishly decorated door portals and frontages. This age saw the rise of the civil servants and of the merchant class, like the Medici, who spruced up (tacked on, or demolished and rebuilt) many a parish church building.

The Renaissance (1420 -1600) reacted against this and sought a return to classical antiquity – classical forms, Roman orders. Humanism was the order of the day. Then came the richly-decorative Counter-Reformation-launched Baroque (1600 – 1760). Surpassed later by some sort of Classical Revival as part of the Romantic Movement, etc etc.

miso and mustard marinated grilled rump steak with forest mushrooms, caramelised onions, microgreens, baby radishA good bit of rump steak (in the photo above, peeking out coyly from under a pile of forest mushrooms, onions, salad cress, and baby radish) made us brave for the half-term crowds at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Its architecture section quite happily summarised preceding architectural periods as: Classical, Gothic, Classical Revival, Gothic Revival – thereby emphasising the swaying pendulum.

chocolate souffle with creme fraiche d'isigny and kirsch cherriesAnd so some poor person who came to chat while I was on front-desk duty and who, unfortunately, insisted on hearing about the Heresy of the Month had a earful of a half-baked theory about how the issues and doctrines that we get so emotional about in our evangelical circles and in our generation may, in the great sweep of history, be little more than a reflection of the zeitgeist of the age and that itself nothing but a bit of the arc in the swing of that perpetual(?) pendulum.

It is important to ignore the strident rhetoric from even our own dearly-loved camp and to check any emphasis on things against the emphasis set out in God’s word, the Bible. After all, we who say we honour God will want to live to please God, not man.

deconstructed full English breakfast - or a full English that you can eat with one hand while reading a bookdeconstructed full English breakfast – poached egg yolk on baked beans, dotted with cubes of poached egg white and forest mushrooms, slivers of grilled unsmoked bacon, black pudding soil, toasted bread croutons, salad cress (or a fry-up that you can eat with a teaspoon while reading a book). Another advantage of this is the higher probability of getting all the different components in one spoonful without much effort on the part of the book-reader. If I had to start a cafe, it would be one for the solitary book-reader. All food would be served in bowls and be easily enjoyed with a spoon in one hand and a good read in another.

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