Barry Byrne and the architecture of the altar

This upcoming Thursday and Saturday (September 19 and 21) Vincent L. Michael will sign copies of his new book The Architecture of Barry Byrne at St. Thomas Apostle Church, Hyde Park, Chicago, IL.

St. Thomas the Apostle was the first modern Catholic church building. Byrne’s designs for the project are a bold example of how the architect approached these spaces from the perspective of a progressive Catholic. Of the design Michael writes: 

In early 1922 Father Shannon asked Byrne to design a new church for St. Thomas the Apostle. The site was unusual.  Byrne’s convent and the 1890 Victorian Gothic church lined 55th Street, with the rectory and other small buildings along Kimbark, forcing the church back toward the alley and creating an indirect entry.

Byrne approached the design problem as a modernist. He saw the function of a Catholic church as a visible, communal Eucharistic Mass.  To perform this function required an altar for the priest and seating for the parishioners.  Byrne said, “The altar is the church. . . . the building exists to house the altar of the sacrifice.”


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