Artists’ works add to sacredness of places of worship
What makes our places of worship sacred and so beautiful? Surely the presence of the divine, and the people with their prayers. A place of worship can be simple in its ornamentation and still resound with holiness because of the prayers of the people who come there to worship.
But there are also those artists that put their faith to work in praise of the divine, artists whose work add to the sacredness of our churches, temples and synagogues.
Some of this art, like Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, invites us to lift up our hearts. Other sacred art is made to be completely functional, such as sacred vessels wrought in silver, gold and gems. Or the ornate tabernacles in which Jews keep the Torah.
Locally, I think of the Chapel of St. Ignatius on the Seattle University campus, designed to be a “gathering of different lights.” My favorite part is the room of the Blessed Sacrament. The walls are covered in beeswax, with prayers written into them. This room has a deep and lovely fragrance, fresh with a bit of honey, and ancient because of the wax.
At our church, St. Hilda St. Patrick, we have striking stained glass windows created by local glass artisans. The light filters through our windows in a poetry of color. When the sun comes through, they create a light-burst of inspiration. At night the windows are lit from the inside, becoming an inviting beacon to our sanctuary.
We are blessed to have a nascent woodworker in our congregation who in his retirement has taken up creating beautiful objects in wood for our worship space. Giles started with installing a wood lattice for our organ pipes, then moved onto creating other beautiful and utilitarian objects for the church.
With each new creation, Giles has designed pieces that flow beautifully with our simple building. But what makes his work special is that Giles adds subtle touches that open us to the sacred. Our baptismal stand, made from cherry wood, has three lovely hand-carved doves in various states of flight, reminding us we baptize in the name of the Holy Trinity.
Most recently, Giles was inspired to design and build a new altar, also made in cherry. The top of the table appears to “float,” giving the altar an uplifting feel and matching our soaring ceilings. The altar contains great beauty in its simplicity, and by its design focuses our attention on what we do at God’s table as we give thanks and praise, lifting our hearts to God.
Giles’ inspiration comes from a desire to create objects that are both beautiful and functional. He talks about being awake at 2 a.m., worrying, fretting, designing and redesigning each object.
Giles and God have many words in this act of creativity. But in the end, every piece looks as if it has always been a part of our worship space. Each piece feels like it has emerged from not only Giles' prayers, but the prayers of the community.
This is what makes the art and objects sacred – the product of human desire and prayer encountering God. We are surely blessed by such a faithful artisan in our midst!