Check out the interior of Saint Augustine of Hippo Parish (1912) located on South Howell Avenue, just a few blocks away from the never-dull Kinnickinnic Avenue in Bay View. Parishioners were praying a rosary before Mass, so the photos were taken from a discreet position in the back of the church.
The interior has many beautiful original features: the stained-glass windows, old confessional, baldacchino and high altar. But the unfortunate (and all-too-common) renovations in the 60s or 70s did a number on the sanctuary which, as you can see, is now an in-the-round platform-stage. Sadly, the kneelers in the pews are missing in action. And carpeting should never be within five-miles of a church. Lastly, I suspect more elaborate art once graced the walls of the interior as well. The apse is the perfect spot for an imposing Christ Pantocrator.
In his excellent essay on sacred architecture, Uwe Michael Lang lists several design characteristics that should be present in all Catholic churches. One of these is orientation. The in-the-round style is inconsistent with the traditional design of Catholic churches. “The ideal of the Christian church is not a circular building with the altar, ambo, and sedilia in the center; it is not mere accident that samples of this type are hardly found before the second half of the twentieth century.” Another requisite should be thresholds. Citing the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, Lang reminds readers that the sanctuary “should be appropriately marked off from the body of the church either by its being elevated or by a particular structure and ornamentation.” In light of the previously mentioned need for proper orientation within the church, it cannot be argued that an elevated sanctuary in-the-round is ideal for a sanctuary. Besides, in the case of Saint Augustine Parish, the original and traditional sanctuary, was already elevated, and set apart by the “particular structure” of a Communion rail. (See “Sacred Architecture at the Service of the Mission of the Church” by Uwe Michael Lang, Sacred Liturgy: The Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church, Ignatius Press, 2013)
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of seeing beautiful, historic Catholic churches disfigured by ugly, tasteless, dated and architecturally inconsistent renovations that shifted the focus of liturgy from God to man. It’d be naive to assume that these ubiquitous renovations didn’t play a significant role in the slow and steady deterioration of the faithful’s grasp of the sacred liturgy. Let’s hope someone with vision will be inspired to restore this historic church to its original integrity, and that others will follow.