Peter Newby, “From Santa Sabina to St Margaret’s through Velarde”
Advanced studies’ seminar on sacred space hosted by Eric Parry Architects, 18 April 2023. With The Rev Canon Peter Newby (St Mary’s University), “From Santa Sabina to St Margaret’s through Velarde: Finding Beauty in tradition as ritual and setting”:
Peter Newby – Keynote presentation Eric Parry
José de Paiva
Synopsis: Beauty is recognised in traditional Christian theology as one of the transcendentals of being yet is often described in formal terms alone when applied to religious architecture. Such an approach fails to grasp the richer dynamic between ritual, the words, actions and implied beliefs of the participants, and the setting, functional for the purposes required but indicative too of the truths of faith that shape reality. Resolving this dynamic in Christian religious buildings has repeatedly looked to the historical precedent of the first centuries of the Church’s existence. This precedent includes the adoption of the basilica form of Roman origin but also the long-standing setting within the sanctuary (the place for the celebration of rites) which transcended the move from house church to basilica. Recognising the continuities of the pre- and post-Constantinian Church will help resolve the seeming fracture between the architecture within the Catholic Church, of pre- and post-Second Vatican Council (1962-1966), and overturn unhelpful contrasts fostered by protagonists on different sides of the debate. I would like to demonstrate that there is no necessary conflict between the historical styles of the past and contemporary designs of today. FX Velarde, though he worked before the Council, demonstrates an interpretation of tradition that created a rich dynamic between ritual and setting, thus transcendental of beauty.
Fr Peter Newby is a Catholic Priest of Westminster Diocese and is currently Parish Priest of St Margaret of Scotland Church, St Margaret’s on Thames, and Chaplain to St Mary’s University. He has acted for the last 15 years as Chair to the Westminster Diocesan Art and Architecture Committee whose mandate is to assess proposals for the re-ordering of churches. Before entering seminary, he studied architecture at Cambridge University from 1977-1980. Afterwards he worked for a year at Ben Weinreb Architectural Books, and later as an intern at Alsop and Lyall. In 1982 he entered seminary in London and in 1984 was sent to Rome to complete his studies in theology and philosophy. After ordination he was posted to Our Lady of Victories, Kensington before being appointed as Chaplain to Oxford University in 1995. Later in 2002 he was sent to St Mary Moorfields in the City of London. Throughout this period, he maintained his interest in architecture and after his experience of assessing schemes for the re-ordering of churches recognised the need to reflect on these issues more profoundly. Involvement with the 20th century society and a chance encounter with Francis Xavier Velarde’s architecture on a visit to Liverpool gave the necessary impetus to start a study on his architecture that expanded into the wider issues of the dynamic between ritual and setting as the key to religious architecture.