Perhaps you haven’t noticed them? Over the past several months, at the top of each of these editorials, has been an original sketch of an exemplary Canadian Catholic church. Over the next few months, I’d like to tell a few of their stories; I’d like to use them as windows into our artistic tradition and as illustrations of our nation’s rich legacy of faith. (The artist is Heinz Klassen. He is a sometime graduate from art school, and, among other wonderful things, my father-in-law!)
Prior to Emperor Constantine’s conversion in 312 AD, Christians were too busy running from lions to worry about building houses for worship. Once peace came, though, they did. Sketched above is the Basilica-Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It’s constructed in what’s called the basilica style. Why so named? Because it is an adaptation of the plan of the Roman courts, or basilicas. The key feature to these churches is their long rectangular nave with side isles. Naturally, the early Christians borrowed from the best of the culture at hand, and made it better.
And better it they did. When the Irish fishermen settled in Newfoundland, they brought their families and a fierce loyalty to the Faith. As Jesus prophesied, the very stones would cry out. With bell towers, archways, stained glass, and elaborate statuary, once Bishop Fleming and his immigrant flock laid St. John’s foundation stone in 1841, they announced their faith in a civilization that could bring light to every corner of the earth, which it has. And then, the seventies, when the architects threw together this church in Winnipeg. It’s hard to see whether they had the same Gospel in mind. The stones still tell.