Anna Kaladish, Contributing Writer
After the recent Mass of the Holy Spirit, Dr. Lyle Novinski, accompanied by his wife, Sybil, offered a tour of the Church of the Incarnation. While Jane and Duane Landry of the O’Neil Ford firm were the architects, Novinski was instrumental in the planning and realization of our campus church.
The design of the church was complicated by its location: Erecting a large building on a steep hillside is no small task. The site was chosen, however, because it was a clearing in the woods where students used to pray together. The columns throughout the church recall not only ancient architecture but also the trees. The porch recreates the woods with its low-hanging canopy and numerous columns.
Beginning with the brickwork of the porch and continuing throughout, the paving points to the baptismal font. This is because baptism is sacramentally the entrance into the Church. The bricks from the font to the altar are perpendicular to both, signifying the connection of the sacraments. Novinski designed both the baptismal font and the altar, and both were carved from Texas stone.
Many elements of the church are present in other buildings on campus, but in the church each element is made more ornate. The columns in the church, unlike those in Haggar, are inset with bricks at the base; the wood sticks of the church, unlike those in the gym, are finely polished; and the light fixtures, unlike those in the cafeteria and the science building, are very elaborate. There is continuity with the rest of campus, while still the church is privileged with the finest pieces.
Like Santa Sabina in Rome, the octagonal interior measures 60 feet by 60 feet, and, like Santa Sabina, there is a 12-foot ambulatory. The muted interior is accentuated by the windows facing due north. The architects wanted clear, unchanging light so as to prevent distraction. The elevated windows also hearken back to a clerestory. The soft light allows for a striking view of the copper light fixtures designed by Isaac Maxwell.
Unlike many European and American churches which follow the baroque tradition of placing pictures of the Stations of the Cross on the walls of the church, eight bricks were removed between each set of columns in order to place the stations in the floor. This is to emphasize the way of the cross as a journey through the church and back into the world, rendering the way of the cross inseparable from one’s way of life.
Despite the deliberately sparse decoration, the church holds 18 works of art, including the arresting crucifix above the altar by Heri Bert Bartscht, who also made the St. Michael statue by the entrance. The works of art are made from simple wood, stone and metal. To accompany, these materials, Novinski designed the chairs, which join to form pews, out of wood and pure wool fabric.
After 20 years without a church proper in which to celebrate Mass, Novinski and his wife were well accustomed to setting up in Lynch Hall or the gym for Sundays and special occasions. Through that ordeal, they came to understand a sacred space as possible without the aid of stained-glass windows and finery. Just as the Church of the Incarnation’s name was chosen to be as simple and direct in its signification as possible, so too the interior of the church was designed as an entirely sacramental space, conveying much with simple gestures.