A photographer’s pilgrimage around Europe’s most spectacular modern churches
Photographer Jamie McGregor Smith captures some of Europe’s most striking religious architecture – modern churches
Jamie McGregor Smith has a passion for eccentric ecclesiastic architecture. Over the past couple of years, the Vienna-based photographer has travelled around Europe, capturing images of some of the most distinctive examples of 20th-century religious architecture – modern churches.
This was a project born out of lockdown, beginning shortly after Smith moved to Vienna and discovered the city’s Church of the Most Holy Trinity, or the Wotruba Church, a collaboration between the Austrian sculptor Fritz Wotruba and architect Fritz Gerhard Mayr. ‘It began life as a sculpture, the artist believing its design had been delivered by God in a dream,’ Smith recalls.
‘I was bewildered that this piece of progressive art, consisting of 152 irregular concrete blocks, had been commissioned by such a conservative institution. It redefined my idea of what a church could be.’
Smith’s photographic pilgrimage continued, taking advantage of the fact that many churches remained open during the pandemic and the general absence of people.
Describing himself as a ‘photographer of civilisation’, Smith has completed projects including studies of post-industrial landscapes and vanishing nature. His work has appeared in Wallpaper*, as well as Vanity Fair and Esquire.
Sacred Modernity – McGregor Smith’s forthcoming book of modern churches – takes in many of the classics of the post-war era, a time of dramatic experimentation with the form and function of the church. Spurred on by the modernising impulses of the Second Vatican Council at the start of the 1960s, with a less proscribed approach to services and ceremonies, the new ecclesiastical architecture is often derided as soulless functionalism, at odds with religious tradition.
There’s nothing remotely dispiriting about the spectacular spaces Smith has visited, which include the mighty concrete interiors of Walter Maria Förderer, Günther Domenig and Eilfried Huth, the meticulous lines of Rudolf Schwarz, and the soaring spaces of Ron Weeks’ Clifton Cathedral in Bristol.
The book is currently being prepared for a limited run, supported by a crowdfunding campaign that’ll snare you a signed first edition. It includes an essay by Jonathan Meades, perhaps the wittiest and most insightful of all contemporary architecture critics, and will be published by Hatje Cantz in spring 2023.
Whatever the flavour of your religious persuasion, an impressive interior will have the power to inspire awe. That’s certainly the case for these architectural wonders, some little known and rarely visited. ‘For a church that depended on cultural relevance and architects that craved carte blanche, this [period] was a marriage made in heaven,’ Smith muses, ‘These building are a portal between two worlds.’ §