K. Jordan, ‘White Spirit: Situating Whiteness in Contemporary Church Architecture’ Architectural Histories, Vol 11(1) pp.1-14 2023
In his polemical tract, The Present State of Ecclesiastical Architecture in England published in 1843, AWN Pugin condemned the ‘vogue’ for whitewashed church interiors that had characterised Protestant iconoclasm: for him, the return to colour and darkness was an indispensable backdrop to the reawakening of ritual, tradition and the sacred. In 19th-century Christian theologies, colour (or the lack of it) was profoundly important: no decorative scheme was ever applied without considering the religious implications. The long history of whiteness as a trope in Christian visual culture has been well documented but little attention has been paid to its meaning in late modernity. In the 21st century, whiteness is understood as a polyvalent and freighted concept, bearing implications that reach beyond the religious and into secular critical discourses. In this essay, I explore the contemporary vogue for whiteness as a motif in church architecture, focusing on its political and cultural significance in relation to the decline of traditional Christian worship and the rise of ‘believing without belonging’.