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Vatican university offers unique architecture degree, specializing in church-building

2014-01-19

The practice is centuries old. Over the course of history, the Vatican counted on the greatest designers and architects to come up with magnificent cathedrals and imposing basilicas. 

But up until now, there hasn't been a course to help architects better design these places of worship. The Vatican's St. Anselmo University now has a masters degree for architects specializing in Church-building, with an emphasis on the liturgy.

ORLANDO GABRIELE
Architect and Professor 
"Here, we learn about what is a church, why churches exist, and what it means, symbolically and functionally. So we also learn how a church works.”

There are more than 60 students from all over Italy, currently enrolled for the two-year masters program. They meet once a week, but have much more work outside the classroom. 

The professor said the course doesn't literally teach students how to build churches.

ORLANDO GABRIELE
Architect and Professor 
"We assume that the student already has their formation as an architect, in the sense that this course doesn't help you become a better architect. You already need to be an architect.”

Instead, it focuses on the liturgy and theology. Students learn about what these two fields teach about architecture, and how architecture can better serve the liturgical celebrations. They can then apply those teaching into their designs.

ORLANDO GABRIELE
Architect and Professor 
"If there was a contest to build a church, where we had 50 architects take part, we would get 50 completely different proposals. But the important thing is that all 50 proposals, which are so architecturally diverse, reflect the fundamental principles of the liturgy.”

The program has grown in popularity, by the university's standards. It started off a single course, then multiple courses, until it was finally recognized as a master's program. 

The fact that the university is located in Rome, certainly helps students learn, since the city is dotted by dozens of churches. That sort of advantage can make it harder to replicate such a unique program in other cities around the world.


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