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

Easter Church, Oberwart, Austria - Günther Domenig and Eilfried Huth - 1969
(Image credit: Jamie McGregor Smith)

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.

Wotruba Kirche - Vienna, Austria - Fritz Wotruba - 1976, photographed by Jamie McGregor Smith for photography book of modern churches

Wotruba Kirche, Vienna, Austria, Fritz Wotruba, 1976

(Image credit: Jamie McGregor Smith)

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.’

Church of the Holy Cross, Vienna, Austria - Hannes Lintl - 1975, photographed by Jamie McGregor Smith for photography book of modern churches

Church of the Holy Cross, Vienna, Austria, Hannes Lintl, 1975

(Image credit: Jamie McGregor Smith)

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.

St Theresia Kirche - Linz, Austria - Rudolf Schwarz - 1962, photographed by Jamie McGregor Smith for photography book of modern churches

St Theresia Kirche, Linz, Austria, Rudolf Schwarz, 1962

(Image credit: Jamie McGregor Smith)

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. 

Clifton Cathedral - Bristol, England - Ron Weeks - 1973, photographed by Jamie McGregor Smith for photography book of modern churches

Clifton Cathedral, Bristol, England, Ron Weeks, 1973

(Image credit: Jamie McGregor Smith)

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.’

Eglise Saint-Nicolas, Heremence, Switzerland, Walter Maria Förderer, 1971, photographed by Jamie McGregor Smith for photography book of modern churches

Église Saint-Nicolas, Hérémence, Switzerland, Walter Maria Förderer, 1971

(Image credit: Jamie McGregor Smith)



Sacred Modernity can be supported on kickstarter.com

Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.

With contributions from