Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Book Review: How to Read Churches

How to Read Churches: A Crash Course in Ecclesiastical Architecture
by Denis R. McNamara
New York: Rizzoli Press, 2011

"How to Read Churches: A Crash Course in Ecclesiastical Architecture" by Denis R. McNamara offers a fascinating look at the ideas behind the architecture of churches. In many ways, churches are meant to represent the connection between heaven and earth. McNamara, who holds a BA in art history from Yale University and a PhD in architectural history from the University of Virginia, makes what could have been an extremely complex topic very accessible to the interested reader.

He covers all architectural periods and styles, from classical to Romanesque, Gothic to modern and into the present day. He also explores the reasons behind the architectural choices (both design and material) and what each choice was/is trying to convey. Decorative elements such as stained glass windows and statuary are also examined.

The informative text is accompanied by line drawings providing examples of each architectural aspect from existing churches. While one may have wished to see actual photographs of these elements, the line drawings do help provide a unified feel to the book.

"How to Read Churches" is fascinating for anyone interested in theology, architecture, history, or art. It is small in size (6 1/2" x 5"), but offers a wealth of information. It would make a perfect travel companion whether one is exploring churches close to home or on pilgrimage in a foreign land. It would also make a fine text to accompany a class on church architecture.

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