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
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:
Padre Pio would not be happy with this at all. What a waste.
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!"