Skip to comments.Padre Pio's Shrine, as the Architect Sees It - Renzo Piano Talks about Church, San Giovanni Rotondo
Posted on 08/19/2004 8:01:19 AM PDT by NYer
ROME, JULY 23, 2004 (ZENIT.org-Avvenire).- The newly inaugurated shrine in San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy, dedicated to Padre Pio, will likely be regarded as one of the great architectural works of the start of the millennium.
The Capuchin friars of the community of the religious of the stigmata entrusted the project to one of the world's most prestigious architects, Renzo Piano. The work, inaugurated July 1, has room for 8,000 people. The press has described it as the largest Catholic church after St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.
In this interview, Piano talked about the way he developed the project.
Q: Is it true that it was difficult for the Capuchin friars to convince you to accept the project?
Piano: It's true, but not because I wasn't interested in the topic of the shrine. Quite the opposite. I consider it a great honor that they proposed the project to me: I am a Catholic by formation and conviction.
But, from my experience, a church designed for recollection, for prayer, for meditation, cannot be of great dimensions. An imposing building expresses power, grandiloquence -- something other than what Padre Pio represented.
But Father Gerardo, responsible for the construction of the new shrine, would send me his blessings every morning. In the end he convinced me to go visit the place. I know well the beauty of the landscapes of Puglia. But this valley, dotted with white stone, is something special. It finally seduced me. Then I began to imagine how the new shrine might be.
Q: Are you pleased?
Piano: Of course, in part because in the course of the elaboration and execution of the project, the great dimensions were gradually reduced to proportions more in keeping with the image I had of a place of prayer.
The hall can hold thousands of people but in its interior a sense of recollection is maintained, thanks to the placement of the pews and the way that the stained-glass windows reflect the light in the interior.
Q: How did you achieve this result?
Piano: I also became somewhat of a Capuchin: I observed the way of life of the brothers. I conversed attentively with liturgist Crispino Valenziano. I studied the history of the liturgy and of religion.
If I had planned a church with a nave, an imposing church would have resulted, similar to St. Peter's in the order of grandeur. But I chose a radial structure, centered on the altar with the assembly gathered around and divided in sectors by large arcades that originate from the one center.
Moreover, I selected materials that express simplicity and solidity: local stone and wood, as well as the glass of the windows.
The result has been a hall rich in vibrations and "atmospheric resonance," not only when the magnificent organ is heard, but also because of the effect of the light, which filters indirectly in the ambience and is concentrated directly on the altar.
The Baroque churches were also conceived this way: A shaft of light pierces the diffused atmosphere pointing to the center of the celebration. It is a dramatic effect: Architecture is also the art of stirring emotions.
Q: In addition to the light, the acoustics are also important.
Piano: As I did for the Berlin auditorium, I worked with the German acoustics expert Helmut Müller.
The first step was to decide where the organ should be. This church has a rather long period of reverberation [the time it takes sound to return to the origin after "rebounding" on the walls]: 4-5 seconds, as becomes a large ecclesial hall, suited to sacred music.
But in addition to the acoustics, there is the metaphoric aspect, as music and architecture are similar, although one is obviously material and the other apparently immaterial. Both are made of "rooms," my friend Luciano Berio used to say, because music comes in and out, in its movements, as through successive rooms -- as does one who moves through architecture. In this church, space also has a rhythm.
Q: How did you decide on a spiral floor, akin to a shell?
Piano: The place suggested it to me, because places also speak, even if at times architects do not know how to listen to them.
The little valley that is behind the old church has a distinct, obvious character. When descending, it suggests the idea of a great churchyard that ends below in a circular space; from this stems the shape of the church.
It is also due to the fact that one wishes to bring the assembly as close as possible to the altar so this circular shape is the best. The large arcades separate the hall in segments. Each of these has dimensions similar to those of a church of some 300-400 seats. Thus every individual segment is like a small church.
The sensation of grandiloquence of the great basilicas is due to the fact that in their naves the space is not interrupted. Here, however, it is in rhythm with the stone arches that support the roofing, as well as by the oak pews whose planks are 10 centimeters thick. The arches are unequal among themselves, and are of increasing size.
Q: You are known for using very advanced technologies.
Piano: I come from a family of builders and I think I have in my blood the desire to experiment. I did so in the Potsdamer Platz of Berlin as well as in the New Caledonia cultural center, with structures like cabins, with wooden logs up to 28 meters high.
I like to get hold of old materials and rejuvenate them with today's technologies. This is why I used stone for the shrine.
The technique with which we made the large arches of San Giovanni Rotondo could give a new impetus to the use of this old material. Of course, they could also have done it in the Middle Ages, but they would have had to use thousands of stonecutters for who knows how long.
Q: How have you worked with the artists?
Piano: I spend my life in constant dialogue with artists. In this connection, Monsignor Valenziano's advice was also precious. We called Roy Liechtenstein for the Eucharistic chapel. But, unfortunately, he passed away, and we preferred not to have others complete his work.
Arnaldo Pomodoro made the large cross that characterizes the place of the altar. Giuliano Vangi made the ambo. Mimmo Paladino the door. Also, Robert Rauschenberg worked a long time on the representation of the Apocalypse of the large stained glass window. But his work must still find a suitable liturgical response, and for the time being it remains in the drawer.
Q: Are you ready to design another church?
Piano: Don't believe it. The first time does not imply that it is more difficult to plan a building in particular. It is also difficult afterward.
My profession requires working with the material, but also with ideas, and each project has its soul. Moreover, I would now feel as though I am betraying this church which I have just finished.
AN GIOVANNI ROTONDO, Italy - When Alessia Urso, an architecture student, came to celebrate Sunday Mass at the spectacular new sanctuary in this pilgrimage town in southern Italy, she made sure that she brought her camcorder.
Even as the priest began his benediction, she stood outside the Padre Pio Church, designed by Renzo Piano, sweeping the camera over white stone arches that span a green, copper-sheeted roof. She pointed at the cartoonish depictions of religious figures printed on a screen behind the windows. Inside, she aimed at an altar that looked more like a spaceship's console than anything she had ever seen in a medieval, Renaissance or Baroque cathedral.
"We're in 2004," the 23-year-old Ms. Urso said. "You have to look ahead."
Italians devoted to design and to the divine have been in high spirits since Mr. Piano's sanctuary, dedicated to the monk and mystic Padre Pio, was inaugurated in June, less than a year after a small but stunning church designed by Richard Meier opened in Rome.
The forays into church design by architects with the stature of Mr. Piano and Mr. Meier have attracted attention in a country where shrines, cathedrals and basilicas have been omnipresent for centuries.
"These are signs that point to a certain direction," said Bishop Ernesto Mandara, who runs the Rome diocese office that commissioned 50 churches for the new millennium, culminating in Mr. Meier's $25 million Mercy of God Church. "That direction is the church paying more attention to architecture."
It is premature to say that Mr. Piano's spidery dome or Mr. Meier's three sweeping concrete sails and glass facade will push Roman Catholic architecture into a period comparable to the glory days when churches were stylistic showcases for masters like Francesco Borromini and Lorenzo Bernini. But some church officials are hoping that a return to architectural splendor will help put people in the pews.
"We turned to these big names for the same reason that when one has a sickness he goes to the best doctors," Bishop Mandara said.
Perhaps it's just me, but these poured concrete churches do nothing for me.
Detail from the new church
I don't quite "get it" but I'd have to study it a bit more, or even better, see it in real life! Maybe if they grew a little ivy on it.....LOL!
Splendid architecture will not overcome Protestant-Modernist liturgy.
Roy Liechtenstein??!! The eucharistic chapel was designed by the pop artist famous for his cartoon images like this:
Arnaldo Pomodoro made the large cross that characterizes the place of the altar.
He means this sacrilegious parody of a cross:
Giuliano Vangi made the ambo. Mimmo Paladino the door. Also, Robert Rauschenberg worked a long time on the representation of the Apocalypse of the large stained glass window. But his work must still find a suitable liturgical response, and for the time being it remains in the drawer.
"Must still find a suitable liturgical response" sounds like a euphemism for "He really went too far this time." And that must be saying something when you consider everything that they accepted. Rauschenberg is another pop artist, so I guess we see a definite trend: Padre Pio's shrine was designed to be "pop art." What must poor Padre Pio be experiencing in heaven?! Perhaps he is glad that the architecture and art of this shrine are telling pilgrims in no uncertain terms, "Go away! Stay far away! This is no longer Catholic here." The design is giving visual evidence of the loss of faith. To get a feel for what Rauschenberg's rejected stained glass windows might have looked like, here is one of his pop art collages created expressly for a monastery in Venice:
Hmmm, where's Jesus, in any of those works?
I'm looking for a picture of a church, but all I see is a spaceship.
yuck....Italians have produced the most beautiful buildings for centuries, WTF happened to them?
Perhaps he is glad that the architecture and art of this shrine are telling pilgrims in no uncertain terms, "Go away! Stay far away! This is no longer Catholic here." The design is giving visual evidence of the loss of faith.
You've absolutely summed it up! And what a shame, I've always wanted to visit San Giovanni Rotondo. I guess I still could, and just stay clear of this 'shrine'. Pity, though, the misguided who visit the shrine and think it wonderful.
To get a feel for what Rauschenberg's rejected stained glass windows might have looked like, here is one of his pop art collages created expressly for a monastery in Venice...
Sadly, the monastery probably proudly displays it, in all it's ugliness. To me, it looks like a bomb dropped somewhere and this is the immediate aftermath. How awe-inspiring and faith-filled (sarcasm).
Modernism or postmodernism. Some crap like that.
The abomination and the desolation continues. Poor Padre Pio.
Padre Pio would not be happy with this at all. What a waste.
From the photos, it does look like an airline terminal. Hopefully its better in real life. I can't help thinking that archetectural critics probably wrote similar things when the Franciscans built their church at Assissi.
I doubt St. Pio would come near this monstrosity. Where do they find these ego-maniacal so-called designer/architects?
Oh my goodness! Can you imaging a recovering drug addict attending Mass there? "I'm having a flashback!"
Well, the usual continues. When will it end? I hope Padre Pio can fix this mess. He is one of my favorites.
The images appear like graffiti on a bronx apartment done by local srteet artists with no sense or purpose.
Why have a cross without the body of Christ, it doesn't represent the traditional catholic symbol of the crucified Christ?
Thanks for the ping.