The list of architecturally deficient Catholic parishes in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex seems inexhaustible. Just the other day, I thought, dear reader, that we must have seen at least every style of bad ecclesiastical architecture available somewhere in this area until I re-visited a church I last saw on Good Friday—St. Maria Goretti, which was hosting relics of the True Cross that morning.
St. Maria Goretti in Arlington is a strange artifact from that transitional pontificate of Eugenio Pacelli, an age in which everything looked stable and constant on the surface, but a violent storm brewed beneath Pius' Italian crust. I last saw a church approaching this style—merging traditional concepts with modernist and minimalist art and materials—at St. Bridget in Cheshire, CT, my original parish. It, too, was built during the Pacellian era and it too represents that transitional period.
Minimal lighting, indiscernible stained glass, and varnished wood are the choices in this eclectic contribution. The shape of the church is something between thatched hut and collapsing log cabin.
Other than Stations of the Cross, the church has one place for private prayer. Even the kitsch plaster statues have been hidden atop the confessional boxes. When the faithful added chapels to the ancient Roman basilicas, they intentionally put them throughout the temples so that nothing would detract from the integrity of the sanctuary. In St. Maria Goretti, the sanctuary has an altar and all other manner of thingamajigs with only one concession to private prayer.
Perhaps there is additional lighting in the ceiling that was not illuminated, but through the natural glow of the sun, St. Maria's is gloomy.
St. Benedict? Infant of Prague? Franciscan crucifix? St. Maria Goretti? Whichever you please....
The church was built c.1952 for the old Mass. The sanctuary is alarmingly original and un-"Bugninized" from the 1960s because it was already quite bad. Other than the movement of the altar, I cannot definitively say anything in the sanctuary is new. The altar was clearly atop the footpace at first and has descended to become a "forward" altar for versus turbam Masses, but the back wall, Crucifix, carpeting, altar rail design, and the rest are all quite of the age.
There are three ambos. Why, pray tell? Are three different people really speaking during the Mass? I know!—they are for the deacons to sing the Passion during Holy Week!
A Ukrainian Catholic deacon I know one complained that the Roman Church seems to have no sense of joy. One enters the church and sees only a crucifix. This is actually a relatively new phenomenon, and an unhealthy one at that. The gigantic crucifixes that now dominate the eastern walls of Roman parishes result from brutalistic styling that minimalizes decoration and resorts to the crucifix as the one external sign of the Catholicity of the building. Previously, churches would present images of Christ ruling, the Virgin, the patron saint or mystery of the parish, or just a stylized wall.
Also interesting is the pseudo-canopy. The 1950s saw a very brief and half-hearted revival of the baldachin, a cover over the sanctuary that all the Roman and Eastern churches possessed in the first millennium. The open gothic style of the Latin middle ages and the creation of the iconostasis in the Greek church during the decadant Palaiologan dynasty meant that only the far Eastern churches retained the tradition when constructing new edifices, St. Peter's in Rome being a famous exception. The 1950s resurgence rarely resulted in a full baldachin, only strange sounding boards hanging from the ceiling, as at St. Bridget's.
A side altar for daily Masses. St. Joseph and Our Lady watch over the two additional altars, each flanking the sanctuary.
Alas, a traditional church in DFW!