Plastering the Sanctuary
experience at Shadyside Presbyterian is influenced by those objects we
see: the carved limestone of
the walls, pulpit, lectern and font, the brilliant stained glass, the
stunning mosaic, the warmth of the wooden pews and coffered ceiling.
More subtle, yet no less important, is the influence of the shape
of the worship space itself. In
fact “worship volume” may be a more descriptive term.
When confronted with
an overview of the shape of the total volume, we may be surprised.
This is because we experience it from within and we perceive only a
small portion of the volume at any instant.
Even by looking left, right, up and down, we take in less than
fifteen per cent of the volume from most observation points.
So that we may get a
sense of the worship volume, let’s try a thought experiment.
First, take hold of the pyramid shaped roof of the tower and slide
it open. Then, take a giant
pitcher and fill up the inside of the church with plaster of Paris.
Once it has hardened, take down the walls of the building (mark
each stone, so you can properly replace it.
You are left with the odd shaped plaster cast shown below.
Sketch on the main windows to help keep things oriented.
We may first be
surprised by the height of the central tower compared to the transepts.
This soaring space, capped with banded windows, is crucial in
encouraging an upward awareness. This
vertical sense is unusual in Romanesque churches (as compared to Gothic,
where it is a signature feature).
View from Southwest
The general form of
the south transept is not surprising, however, the worship space
immediately adjacent to the entrance may be (here, extending to the left).
The notch is the location of the narthex, transitional from outside
to worship. In the upper half
of the arch is the gallery (or balcony), which affords the opportunity to
observe worship comprehensively. Some
believe, however, that this location feels somewhat isolated.
The scale of the space is quite intimate.
A similar intimate
almost secluded space is just beneath the gallery.
Here the sense of isolation is not perceived and full worship
participation is facilitate. And
from here, the soaring nave is appreciated.
Some people prefer
seats in the transepts. Closeness
to the chancel and other worshippers allows full participation, while the
lower ceiling makes the scale of the space more human.
In addition the low sprung arches seem to offer a comforting
View from Southeast
The full impact of
the tower is felt in the central nave.
The verticality is emphasized since there is no narrowing effect, as with
a vaulted ceiling. One purpose of such a volume is to impart a sense
of smallness of the worshipper in the presence of God. An awareness of the vertical is accomplished by allowing
light to enter high in the volume without impinging directly on the floor
of the nave. However, because the ceiling and windows are
directly above, one's attention is not drawn upwards and away from the
However, because the ceiling and windows are directly above, one's attention is not drawn upwards and away from the chancel.
There are a number of ways to experience the worship volume at Shadyside Church. While each location has its own character, the tall, cubical central nave influences them all.
(Don't forget to remove the plaster cast and carefully replace the walls and roof.)