A new church that is both modern and traditional

A new church that is both modern and traditional

Yesterday, Melanie’s dad took us to visit a new church in the nearby Austin suburb of Lakeway. It’s a beautiful church in a beautiful location. It was dedicated and consecrated in 2001 and while it is not Baroque or Gothic or any other old architectural style, neither is it a modernist monstrosity. It is a contemporary church that is an organic development of traditional forms.

I’ve uploaded a gallery of photos of the church to the Bettnet photo gallery. Take a look and see what you think.

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
  • I can’t tell—what shape is the altar?  And it looks like, from the priest’s perspective, you’ve got two separate groups of people, one to your left and one to your right.  It seems distracting, but maybe I’m not seeing it correctly.

  • The altar is rectangular. And if you’re technical about it, it’s three groups, but they sections are not that far apart. It’s really like on large group of people through an arc of about 120 degrees.

  • Do the stained glass windows really look like they are a paint-by-numbers from a children’s coloring book, or are they much better than that in reality?

  • That is one strange church.  I got the sense that Catholic symbols were an afterthought.  Does it seem like that when you’re there?

    On the positive side…

    I liked the stained glass windows.  A lot.  Yes, they’re simple, but the message is clear and obvious.  At least what I could see in the picture was.

    The stations are lovely.  The confessional is very traditional and doesn’t look like it belongs any more than the stations and the statues do.  The mix of artistic styles is unsettling.  I wonder if that was intentional?

    But what bothers me the most is that dark ceiling.  God is the light that shines in the darkness, but in this church if you look up—the traditional direction we look to when we think of God—you get darkness.  And those arches do tend to draw your eyes up.  The ceiling reminded me of a Scandanavian stave church for some reason.

    I never like to see the tabernacle behind the worshippers as though it’s of less importance.

    A resurrection crucifix on the altar where the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is taking place???  Why didn’t they use the resurrection crucifix at the tabernacle and the traditional crucifix in the sanctuary?

    The altar looks like a stage.

    The baptismal font looks like someone wired it together.

  • This church has some very good elements.  It doesn’t look like a supermarket and that’s good, very good.

    I saw some impressive new, traditional churches when I was in Spain.  This is similar.

  • Are the three “sections” there in order to divide the progressives from the liberals from the conservatives?? LOL

  • I know of another such church: Incarnation Parish in Tampa, Florida.  I attended it when I was stationed at McDill AFB from 2001-2002.

    Here’s a “virtual tour” of the sanctuary:


    Here’s the Church plan with another virtual tour of their stained glass “collection”:


    This is the parish’s website’s main page:


    I found the church beautiful, ordered, very symmetrical, harmonious, and gorgeous.

    The liturgies were proper, and devout, although the Spanish-singing group needed more practice.

    The Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament was huge; there was people before praying before Him at all times of the day.

    I attended the Holy Thursday Mass in 2002, at the height of the sexual abuse scandal.  The rector renewed all his vows before the congregation and emphatically promised that he would live out his commitment to celibate chastity to the utmost.  He received a standing ovation.  It was very moving.

    So, if you find yourself in Tampa, try to visit this church.


  • Reminds me just a little of the new St. John’s in Westminster, MD, which is across the road from my office.  I go there on Holy Days for Noon Masses.  It’s a delight.

    But to really appreciate it, you have to know what the old, 1970’s “in the round” church was like.  No crucifix – it had a floating “risen” Jesus.  The choir was politically correct – it sang “peace to ALL people on earth”, rather than “peace to HIS people on earth”.  The choir director even welcomed everyone to the “worship service”.  There were no banks of candles for prayers.  It was all very modern and, well, gross.

    I actually stopped attending there years ago, it was so bad.

    The Pastor, Fr. Valenzano, is a very good priest, in my opinion.  I think he inherited an extremely liberal parish and has steered it back to the center over the years.

    I went to an Ash Wednesday Mass in 2004 and the music was by a group of ladies – in veils – and some of it was in Latin.  They did a heart-breaking version, in English, of “Come and Mourn With Me”.  It was an incredible experience.

    The new church was dedicated in ‘03, I think.  Quite a phoenix rising from the ashes of liberal catholicism.

    You can see pics of the interior here -http://www.sjwest.org/parish/tour.htm

    And view the exterior on their home page.  And to get an idea of the old church, click on “Portico” – there’s a pic of the exterior of the old Church.

  • I wonder how they handle a procession, with that three-legged arrangement. 

    What’s the overall shape of the church (viewed from above)?

  • Looks a little like St. Monica’s in Methuen, MA.  A relatively new church, and the big gorilla on the block since the closure of two or three other parishes recently in Methuen.  Nice as far as it goes, but give me any one of the old churches in Lawrence that have been closed recently.  Especially magnificent Sacred Heart, a beautiful granite? church that has been sold and will be torn down to serve as a parking lot for Nasser Ford.  How does one get an edifice listed on the Historic Register?

  • The layout is practical from the laity’s standpoint.  I’ve been in several churches with that multi-aisle semi-circular floor plan, and they do handle logistics pretty well.  The architecture doesn’t say “prayer” to me, though.

    Does it really have two altars, or did I misread the floorplan?  If we ever change the rubrics to eliminate the entrance procession, that sacristy is going to be a nuisance.  I wonder if the servers ever have to trot down the aisle to retrieve something father forgot?

  • There area definitely gothic elements throughout the Church.  The interlacing arches remind me of Bohemian Gothic in Prague. The wood is too dark though, traditionally in Gothic and Baroque churches the ceiling is painted in a light color or frescoed. For instance in the Pugen churches that I have seen the exposed wooden arches are painted with strong reds and blues and/or accented in gold.

    I think that the Eucharistic chapel leaves something to be desired, the Tabernacle seems like it is just a decoration on the wall of an oratory and not a vessel containing the Most Blessed Sacrament, not because of any problem with the tabernacle but because of the way it is just sitting there rather un-ceremoniously. This is confirmed by the floor plan which shows that the chapel is directly across from the Baptistery and shares a wall with a bathroom.  Also seeing that there is a returned sentiment among American bishops that the Eucharist should be central it seems like this Church is behind the curve.

    However, of greater concern is the shape.  In Catholic Tradition the shape of the church building has always been important.  Churches were most often build cruciform, with a nave where the majority of the people would be, reminding us that the Church is a ship which carries us all to God.  Other shapes of Churches, circular and also octagonal have similar messages.  The concept of the body of the Church seems lost on this model, and it is replaced with a shape which seems gratuitous.  All in all it seems like most of the good things about this Church come from its traditional (Gothic) elements, which indeed do make the building aesthetically appealing and do remind you of a Church.

  • The Church is also oriented incorrectly on a N/S axis instead of East West, Fr. DeLubac lists this in his book on the Tradition as part of the Apostolic tradition, and the artist formerly known as Cardinal Ratzinger in principle concurs.

  • There is only one altar.

    The darkness may be more a function of your monitor settings than of the building itself. If the gamma on the monitor is set too low, the pictures will be darker than in reality.

    Most people who like the church agree that the placement of the tabernacle is the biggest weak point.

    There is a separate perpetual adoration chapel on the property.

    The orientation of the building is a function of the property, I believe.

  • Gothic in architecture carries a message familiar to anyone who is into “goth” today, I presume.  Which means the young folks who so love “Dungeons and Dragons”.  To overcome that negative message there needs to be special emphasis on light, particularly at the top, where this church has dark wood.  I think that’s what you mean, RPF?  And if it is, I can only echo your concerns.

    Is this church intended to evoke medieval elements?  To what purpose?  The architecture and the Catholic religious symbols fight with each other there.  What is the message of that?

    Goethe is a philosopher of choice of a system of theology that is not Catholic, but that cloaks itself in Catholic terminology.

  • Really?


    From the website:

    Many of his biographers put great stress upon his stay in Strassburg
    and his studies of Gothic Architecture, particularly under the
    tutelage of the great thinker,, Herder, who is credited with
    inspiring Goethe with his love – even his veneration – for Gothic

    Then there is this website of a goth who is describing the culture. Click the link or scroll down to “What is Gothic/Goth?”

    From the website:

    People into this today, usually fit into some of the definitions the history of this topic can state, whether in it’s form of a mysterious, dark, or barbaric appearance, an interest in this type of art or architecture, or someone into supernatural literature, and more.

    This goth website, too, refers to gothic architecture in its description of the culture.

  • Because goths are silly and uneducated and think that if the architecture is called Gothic then it must have something to do with their bizarre proclivities.

    Gothic refers to the Goths (Visigoths, et al) who were the later Germans and is simply the place in which Gothic architecture flourished (as far as I recall.)

    You have a tendency to draw links between things based on the most tenuous basis.

    Just because some goth, somewhere at some time, references Gothic architecture in one place, you make the connection that there’s something wrong with Gothic architecture.

    Gothic architecture is not a priori dark or foreboding or reminiscent of evil in any way. Some of the most beautiful and transcendent churches are Gothic.

  • Let’s look at the Nationmaster Encyclopedia’s description of the gothic:

    Gothic architecture is a style of European architecture, particularly associated with cathedrals and other churches, in use during the high and late medieval period, from the 12th century onwards. It was succeeded by Renaissance architecture, a revival of Roman formulas, at varying times in Europe, beginning in Florence in the 15th century. A series of Gothic revivals began in mid-18th century England, triumphed in 19th century Europe and continued, largely for ecclesiastical and university structures, into the 20th century. The term Gothic was originally intended as a stylistic insult since Gothic equated with “barbarian” (ie. uncivilized), but the term has since matured to a neutral description.

    When looking at this particular architectural style, the gothic revival must also be considered since Goethe was an important figure in the revival:

    The Gothic revival was a European architectural movement with origins in mid-18th century England. In the 19th century, increasingly serious and learned neo-Gothic styles sought to revive mediæval forms, in distinction to the classical styles which were prevalent at the time. The movement had significant influence in Europe and North America, with perhaps more Gothic architecture built in the 19th and 20th centuries than had originally ever been built.

    The Gothic Revival in architecture combined with the mood of Romanticism to create the atmospheric genre of the Gothic novel, beginning with Walpole’s Castle of Otranto…

    The goth culture is closer to the gothic revival than to the original gothic.  Dungeons and Dragons is very much a part of it as is occultism.  I’ve read rather a lot about that occultism, Dom.  Goethe was a major influence on Rudolf Steiner.  Steiner’s theosophy/anthroposophy is a major contributor to the American new age movement.  Something we really don’t want to turn our Catholic teenagers on to.

    My dislike of that dark ceiling flows from my knowledge of the impact new age occultism is having on our culture.

  • St. Joseph’s Cathedral is a nice example of gothic architecture.  I’ve attended Mass there several times.  The church is very bright.  There is no sense of looming darkness above.  Partly, I think, that is because the cathedral is made of stone, not of wood.  The original gothic cathedrals were all made of stone.

  • Right, dark ceilings, new age occultism. I still think you’re stretching.

    In any case, the ceiling is not as dark as you seem to think it is. Turn up the brightness on your monitor.

  • Carrie,

    I think dark ceilings are mostly related to lack of lighting, rather than any hocus-pocus.  Many of the older churches were built (or wired) when electricity was a true luxury.  Re-wiring our Churches is a huge job.  I recommend it for fire protection, but it is really expensive.


  • Yes, John, the electric can be expensive.  One way that problem with dark ceilings has been overcome is by putting windows up there.  You can see an example of that in the Columbus Cathedral.  There are stained glass windows up at the ceiling level where the light comes in.

    In the case of the Texas church, there was no difficulty with wiring since the church is new.  The difficulty lies in the design.  The church was designed just as you see it.  It was built in 2001.  The only question was how intentional the darkness was.  I’ve blogged some thoughts on the church that were too extensive to put in a combox, if you’re interested.


    And here.

  • Carrie,

    How many times do I have to say this? I’ve told you repeatedly that the ceiling of the church is not as dark as you presume it to be. But once you’ve made up your mind about something you keep repeating it despite evidence to the contrary, like a child. And then you draw webs of connections that no reasonable person would make. You turn a superficial resemblance into evidence of nefarious intent.

    Everything about the church, about the congregation, and about the priest who built the church is orthodox. The priest is a friend of Melanie’s family who is very orthodox, who has founded several parishes, who has served the poor and needy directly in a Christ-like manner and is revered for his holiness.

    But you see a dark ceiling and conclude that this church is symbolic of new age occultic darkness. Give me a break.

  • Sigh.

    Have it your way.  Obviously you’ve seen the church and I’ve only seen the picture on the church’s website.  And the picture of that cross in the sanctuary.  And the activities of the monks in that diocese.  And the Gurdjieffian church down there.

    Dom, how much have you read about the occult?  How much do you know about Gurdjieff?  Would you recognize it when you see it right in front of you?  What do you base your assumptions on?

    In any case, this 58-year-old “child” who has spent the last seven or eight years researching the intrusion of the occult into Roman Catholicism will defer to your superior adult intelligence.

  • Yes, Carrie, I am the one who’s seen the church. That there might be some kooky monks in a particular place does not automatically place an entire diocese under suspicion.

    How much do I know about the occult? I like in Salem, Massachusetts. I get an up close and personal view of it on a daily basis.

    I’m beginning to think that if Jesus Christ Himself came back you’d find some fault with Him and would make some connection between “going up in a cloud” during the Ascension and a pagan ritual performed in Bowie, Maryland, in 1964 by a Druidic cult.

  • Well, Dom, I have my doubts about you being able to recognize it in the Church when you see it.

    I guess that we’ll each have to live with our doubts, won’t we.

  • From the Diocese of Austin:
    This diocese is not part of the occult.
    Although, I will grant that there may be some weird folk here.

    The Emmaus parish is interesting and I’ve only participated in Mass there once. The tabernacle’s placement is interesting and the Christ flying off the of the cross is a bit different (the processional cross is a mini version of the same). I can’t say I like it all that much or the symbolism it contains.

    The Stations were commissioned by King Louis XIV, I believe. I forget the details on how they found their way to Texas.

    I don’t know Msgr. McCabe (founding pastor) so I can’t comment anything regarding him or of his thoughts during the design of the building.

    As for all of the different styles, I don’t find it unsettling at all. If nothing else, it is a reminder of what it means to be Catholic. There is no single Catholic style of architecture and this chuch mixes many of them. Some items, like the Stations, are traditional and are older pieces and some, like the altar and font, were built by members of the parish (I believe).

    May there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me!