The following comes from an October 19 Catholic World Report article by Jim Graves. Full interview here.
Enzo Selvaggi, 36, is founder of Heritage Liturgical, a liturgical design firm in Southern California committed to reviving traditional sacred art and church architecturefor the purpose of promoting the New Evangelization. He lived in San Marco Argentano in the Calabria region of southern Italy until age 11. After living in California for a time, Selvaggi returned to Italy for four years to discern his vocation with the Institute of Christ the King, a society that celebrates the Mass and sacraments in the Extraordinary Form.
Selvaggi combined his artistic talent and formation in the seminary to begin working in the field of church art in 2008. Heritage Liturgical has since become an approved liturgical design firm in the Diocese of Orange in Southern California. Areas of expertise include liturgical design, sacred art, vestments, and church renovation. Selvaggi has worked on a variety of church projects in the area, most recently the ongoing renovation of St. John Chrysostom in Inglewood in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
He recently spoke with Catholic World Report.
Catholic World Report: What are you working on at St. John Chrysostom Church?
Enzo Selvaggi: Father Marcos Gonzalez, the pastor, asked me to make improvements. He was placed in charge of what I call a “wreck-o-vated” church, mangled by those who had come before him. It had a poor color scheme—painted in varying shades of green—its marble floors were carpeted over, and its decorative bronze removed. A baptismal font, more like a tub or spa, was placed in the main body of the church by the altar for baptism of both adults and children. It didn’t look much like a church. Father Marcos is a father to his people, and wanted the church to be a place which would better help them encounter God.
We began by rebuilding an altar similar to the 1959 altar, which replaced a table altar. We restored the Communion rail and its decorative bronze. We removed the tub and replaced it with a four-foot, Calacatta Gold marble font in a restored baptismal chapel. We repainted the interior of the church, which included a large depiction of the Blessed Mother over the altar. (Before and after photos can be seen here.)
We did all this work as the church continued to function as a parish. Sometimes we’d work while Mass was held in the main church; at other times Mass had to be celebrated in a chapel elsewhere on the grounds.
St. John Chrysostom is not a rich parish [the 1992 Los Angeles riots began four major streets down at Florence and Normandie], so we’re continuing our work a step at a time, as money is raised. Father Marcos has given me a lot of leeway to propose ideas, as he knows we’re a Catholic firm and wouldn’t do anything heretical. I’m responsible for the design and function as the project manager; I hire artists as they are needed. I tell the artist what to paint and where, then I leave it to him to do what he does.
Besides being a designer, I’m a decorative painter, so you’ll see me doing some of the painting and gilding. Any approvals we need at the archdiocesan level to I leave to Father Marcos.
Catholic World Report: In 2012, the Diocese of Orange celebrated the completion of one of its major church projects, Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Newport Beach. You weren’t among those celebrating. What are some of your criticisms?
Selvaggi: It suffers from what I call the non-distinction of what is office and what is church space. If you look at pagan or New Age symbolism in which the Spirit or God is depicted, you’ll see similar elements visible in this church.
Its sanctuary has a sacred circle with a square altar in the middle. This is ancient symbolism, but it is not fundamentally Catholic symbolism.
The Blessed Sacrament chapel is awkward, hard to get into, carpeted and mostly asymbolic. … Its door outside looks like something you’d find on an industrial building.
Its windows are blue with symbols which mostly cannot be seen inside, but what light does come through is a blue glow. This is one of many missed opportunities to teach, but its design is intentional by the designer.
It utilizes a traditional crucifix from the old church, but is placed off center on a wooden grillwork which makes it hard to see and appreciate.
There is no desire to put forward Catholic doctrine. When you spend $20 million on a church, you expect something a little better. The newer churches in Europe look much the same.
There is a poverty in the capacity and will of these designers to evoke higher concepts. For example, the Queen of Angels altar is not elevated. There is a symbolism to walking up steps to the altar; it reminds us of walking up the hill to Calvary. So, this element of the symbolism of the Passion of Christ is gone.
It’s unfortunate that we remove the richness and wealth of sacred art and architecture that we’ve accumulated over 2,000 years. We’ve embraced the literal and banal, like when you remove adjectives from a sentence. You can remove them and convey a basic meaning, but in a skeletal form, without the full richness of meaning you can convey.
God bless this man and his work! Beauty comes from God!
Fr. Gonzalez does amazing work, and progress is farther along than the “After Renovation” picture indicates. Definitely worth visiting.
What is with this “risen Christ” thing in Catholic churches? Where is the crucifix?
That picture was taken at Easter. The permanent crucifix is there.
“If you look at pagan or New Age symbolism in which the Spirit or God is depicted, you’ll see similar elements visible in this church.” -artist Enzo Selvaggi
Uh-oh. That statement—no matter it is utterly true—is going to get him ostracized and in trouble.
And this: ” When you spend $20 million on a church, you expect something a little better. The newer churches in Europe look much the same.” (Selvaggi) Too much truth, Mr. Selvaggi, be careful.
Oh, having quite a bit of experience in European Neue Kirchen (New Churches), I think we are keeping excellent pace with their open running sores called “Catholic churches”: some excellent examples from France, Germany etc
Surrealism and modernism as art forms and most esp. in “church architecture”, like the thinking of many in the present episcopate and pontificate, are meant to shock the believer into numbness, so that the agenda of…
so that the agenda of depersonalization and nihilism is more easily propagated on the unsuspecting soul.
Beautiful! Some pastors in Northern California are also restoring beauty, dignity and reverence to parish churches. Thank God for the gifts of talented young men like Mr. Selvaggi, who serve the Church.
Way to go, Enzo! You’re a true reformer.
He should visit Saint Elizabeth Ann Seaton Church in Irvine, Ca. The best description of the interior would be “Theater in the Round”….No sacredness or reverence..tabernacle hidden behind wooden barrier….CANNOT SEE….Crucifix hanging from ceiling is a very efeminate depiction…I wonder if Fr. Rod Stephens had something to do with this design….
Yes, Fr. Rod Stephens had something to do with the selection of the very effeminate depiction of Jesus Christ hanging like a floating marionette puppet on invisible strings. Several years ago the laity gathered evidence regarding the homosexual network in Orange County. There was a bulletin insert letting the parishioners know that Bishop Tod D. Brown had given permission for Fr. Rod Stephens to complete work on this project.
Walt, seriously?? What a beautiful expression of the theology of the sacred space. Theater in the round? How about everyone in church being able to see, up close, what is happening at the altar instead of 50 pews back? How about the emphasis on the altar, the center of our summit prayer? How about a focus on Christ’s death on the cross and the resurrection? Go to the web site of this church and you will see a wonderful design for sacred space. See the outstanding emphasis on the majesty of the Eucharist in the Tabernacle chapel. We need more of this, not less.
Bob One, The Blessed Sacrament is the SOURCE & SUMMIT of the Catholic Faith. For the benefit of all faithful priests, it was the laity who confronted Bishop Tod D. Brown about the terrible scandalizing lifestyle of now ex priest Rod Stephens. Rod Stephens was given this assignment and other wreck -ovations with the full permission of Bishop Brown who knew about the scandalous lifestyle. Perhaps Bob One might be drawn to the effeminate depiction of Christ but the real depiction of Christ crucified has always been shunned by those who want to have their lifestyle with and the depiction of an effeminate Jesus too!
This article is about the improvement in the art of this church, not the designer. That is another issue, which you cover very well, Catherine. But, when I look at the picture of the interior of the church, I don’t see and “effeminate depiction of Christ.” I think reality and beauty are in the eye of the beholder, and you see something different than I do, nothing more. Thanks for the link to the parish web site.
Then, as usual Bob One, you are not very well aware of the “work” of our dear church-architecture expert, “Fr.” Rod Stephens (he was also called in as a consultant under a former very special bishop in Phoenix to wreckovate certain Phoenix traditional Catholic churches). In that case, it would be right for you to defer to Catherine’s greater knowledge of the whole matter, of which she is being very politely circumspect (to avoid offending the delicate ears of many).
(We have to be very careful in this time of complete collapse and chaos to avoid offending delicate, delicate ears.. I am doing my best to comply.)
Bishop Tod D. Brown was in essence now forced to try and hide what was really being accepted. Bishop Tod D. Brown did not anticipate that Rod Stephens was going to be as happy and open to proclaim his lifestyle. This posed quite a new problem so to hide this evil Bishop Brown had a diocesan priest, (who was rewarded later with the title of Monsignor) draw up a secret oath to hide evil. The laity witnessed this priest coming out of the attorney’s office after this oath to hide evil took place. This is the same duplicitous brand of evil that is now being exposed at the Anti-Family Synod. It has been at the diocesan level for many years. Faithful priests will certainly be put to the test.
God bless Enzo Selvaggi and Heritage Liturgical! One wonders what Mr. Selvaggi thinks of the newish Christ the Light Cathedral in downtown Oakland, CA., the multimillionaire dollar debt of which led to the bishop’s special 3-year “Reclaiming Christ’s Mission” appeal for donation, which will still not pay off the debt, necessitating more “Reclaiming” donation drives to come.
The work this person is doing is very worthy of praise. New Catholic churches don’t have to be ugly, but they also don’t have to look like the old cathedrals of Europe, which are beautiful but of a different age. They reflected the culture of their time. New churches should reflect our present day culture which includes a lot of beauty. The new church should emphasize the altar as the main focus of the building and of the liturgy. Next, it should focus on the Ambo from which the Word of God kept and proclaimed. The Tabernacle should be easily found and not hidden and there should be a crucifix. After that, it is pretty much up to local expectations about how to communicate the faith.
….the culture reflected by the old cathedrals is a culture of Faith, Catholic Faith. That is what needs to be predominant in any Catholic Church, regardless of the era.
Hey Bob One, I quote ‘don’t have to look like the old cathedrals of Europe, which are beautiful but of a different age.” those cathedrals gave glory to God with their spires reaching to heaven. I have noticed you can always be counted to put down any Church tradition and certainly anything before the failed Vatican 2 council
Will they be cleaning up the disaster created by the Recovators?
Simple churches reflect the dignity of the Catholic faith as well, but modernistic churches tend to have been ugly when they were built and are worse as they age. A very few are worthy of buildings in which to worship God, baptize children, get married, or have a funeral. It is a shame that people see beauty only in churches that look European, and it is also a shame that so many of our American churches are physically appalling. Even a little chapel in the woods can be charming; why can’t we do better with our Catholic churches in America?
Even the BEFORE picture looks better than most Catholic Churches that have been reckovated.
A church is supposed to be God’s house, where He abides. Because it is where God lives, it must be dignified, special, and out of the ordinary. It should inspire worshippers to adore God and to bring them closer to Him. It is a sanctuary, a refuge from the noise, and business of the world. One should be able to tell that he or she is in God’s house because everything in the church should lend one to contemplate Him.
Herman, you nailed it! There are, however, many ways to express your ideas. The grand cathedrals of Europe and the Americas are one way. The simple, unadorned space centered on the Altar and the Tabernacle is another way. In between are many acceptable variations. To prefer one over the other is not to denigrate the tradition of the Church. One is not better than the other or lesser than the other. Both are great. Churches are an art form, and like all art, people know what they like when they see it. Some have wider or narrower perspectives than others..
The now ‘classic’ cathedrals of major cities may have been considered radical when constructed.
I wonder if the new churches are well enough constructed and maintained to last 500 years will be considered ‘classic’ in 2515.
The Eastcoast has such beautiful Cathedrals. In Stamford CT. We visited St John the Evangelist and it is beautiful. In RYE. New York, their local Catholic church is so reverant, beautiful. How blessed they are. Im glad that this gentleman is using his gifts to honor God in such a beautiful way. ☺
I was thinking about some of the comments and did some research on St John Chrysostom, the church shown here, in Inglewood. it was commenced in 1959, and finished in Dec., 1960. This was during the time of Monsgr. Benjamin Hawkes, he being the perhaps infamous vicar of finance for LA Archdiocese. Hawkes would have approved all of the architectural and design plans, which is likely why it reflects the kind of harsh Collegeville-style neo-gothic look that was popular at the end of the 1950s.
Fox had some very bizarre ideas of modern Catholic church architecture. For that you only have to look at his own self-designed St Basil’s Cathedral on Wilshire.
Here are two views of the late Monsgr. Benjamin Hawkes’-designed (not “Fox”, thank you Word-correct) St Basil’s Cathedral on Wilshire Blvd in LA:
Energized by Vatican II’s comments on art and architecture (Sacro. Concilium, Ch VI, esp. #123: “The art of our own days, coming from every race and region, shall also be given free scope in the Church…” Wow, was it ever!) It was designed deliberately to be a cold and forbidding interior, supposedly reminding the Catholic of the persecuted Church in the catacombs. Persecuted yes, especially ideologically; Catholic, hardly.
Hawkes was a strange and…