German theologian Rudolf Otto popularized the idea of the “numinous”, a feeling of awestruck oneness with the Holy Other liable to induce fear, trembling, a widening of the eyes. Built in the right way, religious spaces can induce numinous feelings: from the towering, echoey symmetry of Salisbury Cathedral to the dizzying, hallucinatory tiled ceiling of Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque, places of worship are at their best when they express things we attribute to Gods – wisdom, grandeur, omnipotence. Before the 20th century, religious architecture was all architecture, as cultures projected themselves most vividly onto their religious buildings. These days architects have to be imaginative to make their religious spaces relevant to both the modern world and the ancient religions they serve.
A new book, Sacred Spaces, showcases 30 contemporary religious buildings, spanning all major religions and places of worship from intimate chapels to grand old cathedrals. Sacred Spaces documents each project with lavish photography that will look damn good on your coffee table, even if it doesn’t make you see the light.
Sacred Spaces: Contemporary Religious Architecture by James Pallister, £39.95, phaidon.com.