Joyous colour, glowing glass . .
By IRIS CONLAY
nOES France lead the way in modern church design? With churches and chapels designed and decorated by outstanding artists like Matisse, Corbusier, Cocteau and Picasso it is difficult to believe that France is not always forward-looking.
But Dom Samuel Stehman, writing in Art d'egiise, says that sacred art in France moves forward only spasmodically by spectacular leaps and bounds but is in the main very
conservative. Whereas Ciermany, faced with a vast reconstruction programme. had adopted a contemporary style of church building everywhere.
* * HOWEVER that may be the
I I artists of France continue to lay their talents at the service of the Church and now, on account of his work in a new church in a part rural, part working-class suburban village called Hem, near Roubaix the name of a famous abstract painter — Manessier — will be forever associated with Hem as Matisse is associated with Venice.
Herman Baur, the architect of this church dedicated to St. Therese, has created a simple structure, (except for the south wall which is glass), in keeping externally with the appearance of the small whitewashed cottages and farm buildings.
Glass, glowing, translucent and sumptuous in colour has been designed by Manessier to give a rich life to the interior and to bathe it in a mysterious light which shall change with the changing light outside.
These south wall windows. which are wholly abstract and without figures, symbolise the life and characteristics of the saint, beginning at the entrance with the happiness of childhood and progressing through a period of intense suffering until the fullness of the glory of heaven bursts through. throwing a golden light upon the altar.
MANESS1ER has also made an abstract mosaic which forms a splendid canopy over the entrance of the chapel. In its joyous colour and its elemental shapes it shouts a kind of Alleluia of exulting Nature.
Behind the high altar hangs a tapestry which is translation of Rouault's great painting of the Holy Fact into the medium of woven wools. The only statue is of the church's patron, St. Therese.
It is a silhouette in stone by Dodeigne, a local sculptor, and it shows the saint in the attitude of prayer dressed in her Carmelite habit.
It expresses with a sweet gravity the real St. Therese, and although it is austere and makes no compromise with realism — the figure being simply outlined without features, Dorn Samuel Stehman says that it is absolutely acceptable to the people who ceaselessly bring tributes signifying their devotion.
A free standing bell tower completes the, architect's plan.
Photographs and a full description of this, one of the simplest but also one of the most interesting of the new churches of Europe appear in the autumn number of Art d'eglise, obtainable from the Abbaye de Saint Andre, Bruges, Belgium.