Posts Tagged ‘architecture 101’

“Do not be satisfied with little things, because God wants great things!”
Catherine of Siena – Letter T127

29 April is the feast of Catherine of Siena, OP, a Doctor of the Church, a Dominican, and the force behind the restoration of the Papacy to Rome following the “Babylonian Captivity” in Avignon. Siena has a beautiful Duomo (or Cathedral) that is famous too.

Catherine was the youngest in her family who gave her father no options about her decision to join the Dominicans. Catherine wrote letters to popes, kings and queens, politicians and mercenaries, and many religious figures. Her teaching in “The Dialogue of Divine Providence”  earned her status as a Doctor of the Church.

Catherine’s hometown of Siena is a Tuscan hill town, located north of Rome and about 50 miles from Florence. Siena was settled in prehistoric times, with the first Roman settlement coming during the reign of Augustus. The town’s fortunes improved when the Lombards took over the area in the 4th century. Siena prospered as a city-state, and later as a republic. The University of Siena was founded in 1240, and is still an important Italian seat of learning. Notable sights include the Duomo, the Piazza del Campo, (town square) the Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia, and the church of San Domenico. Wikipedia has a wonderful panorama view of Siena, showing the town hall and the Duomo. Go see it – it is too big to fit here.

Siena’s Duomo was built between 1215 and 1263. A major expansion was started in 1339, but the Black Death killed off most of the parishioners and workers, so the building remains unfinished to this day. The Siena Duomo is on of Italy’s greatest cathedrals.

The Siena Duomo is unique because the major axis of the nave runs north to south.

The Siena Duomo is a Romanesque cruciform church with a Gothic facade, a dome, a bell tower, and the main altar at the crossing. Inside elements include a famous octagonal ambo, several statues and murals about Catherine, and four statues of other saints by Michelangelo. Builders used white and greenish-black marble in alternating stripes for both the interior and exterior. Black and white are the traditional colors of Siena.

Sources and Resources:

  1. EWTN: Saint Catherine of Siena:
  2. Drawn by Love: the writings and world of Saint Catherine of Siena:
  3. Project Gutenberg: Letters of Catherine Benincasa by Saint Catherine of Siena
  4. Sacred Destinations: Duomo di Siena/Siena Cathedral
  5. Wikipedia: Duomo di Siena/Siena Cathedral

UPDATE: See more of the Architecture 101 topics here:

Side Note: In Denver, we have Saint Catherine of Siena Parish and School, which is run by the Dominicans.

See the history of this building here.

Basilica di

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Thanks to Thomas Peters at American Papist, here is a great video of a Mass held last year at a church in Rome. But this is not just any church, and not just any occasion. This is a Solemn High Mass celebrated in the Pantheon of Rome to celebrate the 1400th anniversary of its consecration as a Catholic Church in 609AD. Wikipedia reports that “In 609 the Byzantine emperor Phocas gave the building to Pope Boniface IV, who converted it into a Christian church and consecrated it to Santa Maria ad Martyres, now known as Santa Maria dei Martiri.”

609 AD is 908 years before Martin Luther nailed up his 95 Theses, 924 years before Henry VIII broke with the Church because of Anne Boleyn, and 1221 years before Joseph Smith founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Architectural Notes:

The Roman Pantheon is the largest unreinforced solid concrete dome in the world. The Pantheon’s dome is the largest surviving dome from antiquity; it was also the largest dome in the world until Brunelleschi built the dome of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, the Cathedral (Duomo) of Florence in 1436.

The Interior of The Pantheon, Rome by Giovanni Pannini

Agrippa, the son-in-law of the Roman Emperor Augustus, built the first Pantheon in 27 B.C. The words “M. AGRIPPA L. F. COS. TERTIUM FECIT” which is translated, “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, in his third consulate, made it.”, are carved in stone above the entrance. The original Pantheon burned in the great Roman fire of 80 AD, and was rebuilt by Emperor Domitian. In 110 AD it was struck by lightning, burned down, and was rebuilt by order of the Emperor Hadrian. About 100 years later, it was refurbished for the first time.

Pantheon, Front Elevation by Desgodetz Pantheon Cross-section

Floor plan of the Pantheon. Image in the public domain.

Floor plan of the Pantheon. Image in the public domain.

Pantheon cross_section #2

The floor plan (above) is a rotunda fronted by a pillared portico. The  pillars are hewn from Egyptian granite.  Because the height of the rotunda from the floor to the top of its dome matches its diameter, the internal geometry of the rotunda makes a perfect sphere. The builders used the heaviest concrete at the base,  and lighter concrete made with pumice at the top. The concrete was packed into form, giving the inside of the dome the look it has today. The Roman concrete recipe called for much less water than modern mixes. This difference is one reason scholars suggest for the longevity of the building.

Over the years, the Pantheon has directly or indirectly inspired many notable buildings: the US Capitol in Washington D.C.; Holy Trinity Church in Karlskrona Sweden; The Assumption Church in Puławy, Poland; Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia; and the Great Dome of Killian Court at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  As a church for over 1400 year, the Pantheon/Church of St. Mary and the Martyrs has inspired many more.

Sources and Resources:

1. Great Buildings – The Pantheon

2. Wikipedia – The Pantheon

3. Monolithic – The Pantheon:

4. RomanConcrete – The Pantheon (has a great photos section):

UPDATE: See more of the Architecture 101 topics here:

Basilica di

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nave (nāv) noun In religious architecture, the part of a church between the side aisles, extending from the chancel to the principal entrance, thereby forming the main part of the building.


Images of the Holy Trinity Nave:

Nave Records (according to Wikipedia)

UPDATE: More Architecture 101 here:

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Tympanum n., pl. -na [Medieval Latin, from Latin, drum, from Greek tumpanon.] In Architecture:
a. The ornamental recessed space or panel enclosed by the cornices of a triangular pediment.
b. A similar space between an arch and the lintel of a portal or window.

Our new design has three new spaces that we can consider a tympanum. We’re fortunate that we have many examples from history of how various architects/artists filled the space above the doors.


Here are a few examples from classic architecture.

Tympanum of the central bay at the Royal portal of Chartres Cathedral:


The Last Judgment, from the west portal of St. Lazare, Autun, France:

Tympanum: St. Lazare, Autum, last judgement

The Last Judgment, from St. Denis, France:


St. Marks, Venice, Italy:

Saint Mark’s, Philadelphia, USA:

Portal of St. Marks in Philadelphia

Portal of St. Mark's in Philadelphia

Wikipedia has a few more examples here:

UPDATE: More Architecture 101 here:

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Today we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. In the early 1930’s, Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Poland recorded many revelations about Christ. In 2000, Pope John Paul II recognized Sister Faustina, and declared the Sunday after Easter to be Divine Mercy Sunday. He also decreed a plenary indulgence associated with this devotion.

This is a special day at the Sanktuarium Bożego Miłosierdzia w Łagiewnikach (Sanctuary of Divine Mercy, in Krakow’s Lagiewniki District).  Sanctuary of Divine Mercy in Krakow

Pope John Paul II consecrated the sanctuary’s 1,600-sq-m basilica on 17 August 2000. It has become one of the most popular tourist spots in Krakow.

Sanctuary of Divine Mercy, Krakow by photographer Grzegorz Ziemiański

See Krakow’s official historical notes on the Sanctuary here:

The Krakow Post has a biography of Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska here.

Thanks to photographer Grzegorz Ziemianski for the tip.

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8 Wonderfully Distinctive Historical Churches in Italy: Awe-Inspiring Architecture, Byzantine to Baroque

On the WebUrbanist blog, Lauren Axelrod has a quick photo tour of eight beautiful churches in Italy. The styles range from Byzantine to Baroque. Click the image above to link. The eight churches are:

  1. St. Peter’s Basilica (Vatican City)
  2. San Pietro in Vincoli (Rome)
  3. Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute (Venice)
  4. Basilica di Sant’Agnese Fuori le Mura (Rome)
  5. Basilica di Santa Croce (Florence)
  6. Basilica Santa Maria sopra Minerva (Rome)
  7. St Mark’s Basilica (Venice)
  8. Santa Maria in Trastevere (Rome)

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Architects live and breathe with their Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) software. CAD allows the architect to quickly and accurately record an idea, and then easily modify it. The best CAD software has components to render the design in three dimension. What would take a high-end supercomputer during the 80’s is now easily available for desktop machines.

The folks at Liverpool Hope University in the U.K. are building a simple CAD program for children called KiddyCAD. Their goal is to give kids a modeling tool that is fast, fun and easy to learn. The first module of KiddyCAD is ChurchBuilder 1.1, which can be used to build churches.

The Liverpudlians describe ChurchBuilder as “3D Modeling Software for children which is quick, easy and fun to use… so simple a grown-up could use it.” The software can be used to learn church design and vocabulary (home schoolers take note.) Their free demo is easy to download and install, and while it has a few minor bugs, it looks great. The authors report:

We have trialled ChurchBuilder in a number of primary schools throughout Merseyside… The response from the children has been very positive. We found the children quickly picked up the church architecture terminology and quite happily talked in terms of naves, chancels, towers and transepts when building their models.

The full version costs £19.99, which is about $10 at last week’s exchange rate. The Bettinger kids have tried working with it, and all seemed to pick the tool up quickly. Reviewing the quick web-based training videos helped them understand the interface and the tools.

Contact Information:

KiddyCAD ChurchBuilder 1.1
Liverpool Hope University
BACS Deanery
Hope Park,
L16 9JD,

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