Saturday, September 23, 2023

The change in the skyline. . .

The city where I live is know for the spires that dot the downtown.  We had for many years a Rivers and Spires summer festival.  We are not a village but the 5th largest city in the state and moving toward taking out Chattanooga at some point.  The skylines of the two cities are very different.  We have no skyscrapers or buildings higher than 4 or 5 stories.  Our skyline has a distinctly horizontal look to it -- except for the spires of churches and a building or two on the Austin Peay campus.  Chattanooga and the other larger cities in Tennessee have skylines that look like what we have come to think of for modern cities and the spires that are there are hidden or so small that they are not noticeable in comparison. 

A few months ago a windstorm (I am not sure it was finally qualified as a tornado) took out a steeple in my hometown of 700 or so people.  It had stood since the early 1900s on top of the Swedish Lutheran congregation, on hill, above nearly everything else in town.  When it fell, there was some concern that it might not be able to be rebuilt -- you know how building standards have changed since it was first erected.  I hear that they are, indeed, planning to restore it.  Another spire will rise again.  Even Notre Dame will get its spire back (even if the interior will look like a slug!).

All of this made me think how different the skylines of cities are today than many years ago.  Before the advent of the skyscraper and modern building technology, what dominated the city skyline of nearly every city in the Western world were spires.  At that age and time, the faith was as dominant as the spire across the cityscape.  Everyone saw life through religious eyes -- Christian eyes.  The change in the skylines of our cities and towns reflects another change.  Religion and specifically Christianity, have been moved to the fringes of life in general.  The spires no longer dominate the skyline and Christianity no longer dominates our culture and society.  In fact, it is often viewed as an enemy of humanity and the illusion of progress we perpetuate.  Which are the dark ages?  The ones in which the footings and foundations were laid so that steeples and spires might rise over the grand cathedrals of the cities or the cities of today with their bland concrete, glass, and steel boxes?

The modern skyline may impress us with our might but it can hardly be called beautiful.  So often the beauty has to be searched out in the shadows of these mighty structures we have erected to become the mundane prisons of home and work.  You can find them by looking down instead of up.  Strangely, it was once just the opposite.  You had to look up to see beauty reign over the ordinary and harsh reality of life.  Now it is the opposite.  Boxes upon boxes cut up into boxes inside -- no, give me a spire and steeple and an interesting building holding them up.  Any day of the week!  These reflect hope and beauty into the city and that is certainly a commodity in short supply today.  Perhaps the change in the skylines and the banishment of Christian truth to the fringes are not unrelated.  The next time you survey the skyline where you live or work, how many steeples and spires do you see?  And what does it mean?

1 comment:

Wurmbrand said...

This reminds me of a tangent, an article published many years ago by the late philosopher Roger Scruton that theorized that a cause of some Moslem rage against the West is the ugly buildings that have been raised in Middle Eastern cities, destroying the traditional skyline.

It seems to me, though, to return to the States, that many Lutheran churches were built around the 1960s and were meant to look Modern. To my eye they lack character and appeal, though we should be thankful for the Confessional services held inside.