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.