‘Keep going Richard, keep going’
This is not the first time I have visited the Society of Christian Doctrine’s
at Santa Venera designed by Prof. Richard England. I love it as it is so full of colour, unlike the ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ doctrine lessons of my youth. No guilt, no doom and destruction, no hell here. Just vibrant colours, soothing water and hope. I love it also for its originality.
The invitation came from the Kite Group, so brave to go into Malta’s world of publishing and who do their launches so well. (The book was printed in Italy by Baroni e Gori.) The occasion was the launch of
which represents 50 sacred spaces and arenas of meditation created over a number of years by Prof. England.
The hall was full. A Richard England launch always attracts people. It is worth going just to hear him speak – always eloquent and highly quotable and yet, in his own way a ‘humble’ Renaissance man. How does he juggle it all: design, here and abroad, poetry, books, desirable art. Who can forget his book about Santorini, to name just one example that comes to mind? In Dr Chris Abel’s words: “Richard England’s manifold achievements have rightly earned him fame around the world as well as in his beloved homeland.”
Dr Abel, who also wrote the Forward to the book, gave a moving tribute to the author that evening. He is Honorary Visiting Professor at Ulster University Belfast and a member of the International Committee of Architectural Critics. Dr Abel has taught at major universities around the world and is the author of numerous publications of architectural history, theory and criticism, including two books on Prof. England. He lived in Malta for many years and now resides in Northern Ireland. To quote Dr Abel again: “You will find plentiful examples of Richard’s boundless creative energies in this book but to my mind it is the various chapels that best exemplify the universal meaning of sanctuary expressed in these works. People of religious faith will of course respond to these most special of spaces in their own way, but my point is that the metaphysical experience Richard offers us here transcends specific religious beliefs to create oases of calm and reflection where both believer and non-believer can find solace for troubled spirits. If I had to choose a single project amongst all this recent creative bounty, however, then it would be the Water Chapel and adjacent garden here at the House of the Good Samaritan so named for its island platform surrounded by rippling water channels, a visual and sensory metaphor for the island nation itself.”
Dr Abel remarked that Dar ilHanin Samaritan is entrancing during the daylight, the coloured layering of space acquires yet another dimension at nighttime “when the whole garden is illuminated: a magical vision far removed as its designer intends it to be, from the troubled world outside. If Manikata Church marked the beginning of England’s journey in his long quest for sanctuaries of the soul, then the Water Chapel and garden surely mark the apogee of that quest, if hopefully not yet the end.”
Rev. Dr Fr Stefan Attard lecturer at the University of Malta also spoke but alas I have mislaid my notes of his tribute while Gordon Pisani representing the Kite Group also said a few words by way of introduction to the evening.
Prof. England started by thanking the people and personalities involved in the long process of the making of the book. He also extended his thanks to the internationally renowned contributors for the scholarly texts which so richly enhance the publication. These contributors are Daniel Libeskind, the eminent architect, master planner for the World Trade Centre Ground Zero redevelopment and one of the most illustrious practioners of the profession. Another eminent contributor to the book is Juhani Pallasmaa, architect and outstanding architectural critic who has published over 45 books including one of the most important architectural books Another contributor is Edwin Heathcote, the architecture correspondent of the
and author of numerous books on contemporary church design and also the Wily Academy monograph of Prof. England’s work.
After thanking the living Prof. England spoke briefly about those who are regretfully no longer with us. He mentioned Gio Ponti, the architect with whom he spend two years working most of the time on the design of his San Carlo Borromeo Church in Milan; Basil Spence the architect of Coventry Cathedral; artist Victor Pasmore “who enlightened me about the elimination of the non-essential and the harmony of opposites, qualities so necessary in the design of sacred spaces. “Prof. England also mentioned the late Charles Knevitt and Fr Peter Serracino Inglott. He thanked his wife Myriam “my muse and spiritual mentor, not only for her constant support but also for her profound Christian faith which has helped me to cross the threshold to open the door for me to enter a higher realm of spirituality and thus intensify my Christian conviction… All of which goes to prove that to produce a book is by no means a one man effort.”
Prof. England is not only a creator but also a man of great depth – and a first class thinker. He gave us his thoughts on his making of sacred spaces. Above all he is a great believer in a sense of commitment, dedication and most of all love in the making of sacred, or for that matter, secular spaces. “Mother Teresa’s words remain an essential lesson ‘it is not so much what you do, but how much love you put in the doing.’ I firmly believe that this sense of commitment, dedication and love are actually absorbed by the materials of the manifest building and are reflected to the users while creating a sense of welcome and spiritual enhancement.”
He believes that faith remains a needed additive to the architect’s intellectual and materialistic tools in order for him or her to create a sacred space of animated sacrality. “It is worth noting that the introduction to my essay in the book is entitled “there are many ways to God, I have chosen architecture”. He said that he is constantly reminded that it was Antonio Gaudi who said that the greatest challenge for an architect remains the design of a church. “How right he was, for here, one is utilizing the physical to express the transcendent… by no means an easy task.”
He then gave his audience several quotes which provide him with few essential guidelines which contribute to his design process in the making of sacred spaces. Here are a few of my favourite:
– Tennesse Williams reminding us that in the past architects were high priests, myth makers and magicians. – Alvar Aalto. – Antoine de Saint Exupery,
– Gio Ponti In conclusion Prof. England said that silence remains an essential quality in the design of any sacred space. “In the Holy Book we are constantly reminded that Christ always prayed in places of silence while in the Gospel of Matthew we also have almost direct instructions from Christ Himself for the necessity of silence when He states ‘go into your inner room, close the door and pray to the Father. He is there in silence’….”Ultimately it is worth remembering that in the making of sacred spaces man is measuring himself against the unmeasurable. DIFFICULT.”
In Chris Abel’s words: “Keep going Richard, keep going”. I heartily join Dr Abel in this.
Prof. England with Dr Chris Abel
Prof. England, his wife Myriam and Gordon Pisani of the Kite Group
Meditation Garden focusing on water fountain at Dar il-Hanin Samaritan
Malta’s Renaissance man: Richard England