Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey Church, Lafayette Oregon: An Overview
October 30, 2007
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J. DAVID RICHEN
The new Abbey Church at the Trappist monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey in Lafayette, Oregon is part of the second phase of a Master Plan which will result in the complete renovation and rebuilding of the entire monastery. The monks moved to Oregon from Pecos, New Mexico in the mid-1950s and built what was to be a “temporary” monastery of wood, until they could build a permanent one of bricks and mortar. Over fifty years went by before any major work or changes to the monastery itself took place. The monks did build new guest quarters and a meditation/reception building for guests, as well as numerous structures to accommodate their various industries.
After several years of meetings, committee work and presentations by the architect, the Master Plan was approved by the community on Pentecost of 2001. The first phase of work involved the most serious issues of fire and life safety, new kitchen, renovated cells and everyday living quarters. Phase II consists of the new church and establishing new uses in the present church. Phase III includes a new elevator, senior wing and infirmary.
There are several major parameters which established the design of the new church. The site was selected because of its prominent location and because it was the only really logical place to build. The shape of the church plan is influenced by numerous factors including the configuration of the adjacent buildings forming the main entry plaza, to make provision for sunlight into the existing contiguous wings of the monastery, orientation to views and the outside environment and historical precedents.
The footprint of the church is of a rotated square within which is placed a cross. The earliest Cistercian church of which there is a record was a square with a pyramidal roof. The cross forms the plan of innumerable monastic churches, many of them built by the Cistercians. The main monastic and liturgical spaces are situated in the cross form which is the highest. Private veneration and devotional spaces occur in the low ceiling ambulatory spaces formed between the square and the cross.
The “theology” behind the design of the church is that it is to be a vessel in which the monks and their guests celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours and the Eucharist. It is to be a place where the monks and guests experience the darkness of early morning Vigils and the daily course of movement from darkness to light and then to the darkness at Compline with all the nuances in between. It is also a place in which to witness the changing seasons -- liturgical and natural.
The church is designed to tie in with the present monastery rather than introduce a totally different style or type of construction. Materials of the new church are native to the Northwest with few exceptions. The lumber for the pews, choir stalls and liturgical furniture was logged from the abbey’s own sustainable forest. Choir desks and stalls will also contain recycled wood from the old chapter room benches.
The monks have commissioned several original pieces of art for the new church. The main entry doors from the gathering space (part of former church) will be carved Oregon White Oak (same type of wood as the liturgical furniture) reliefs of St. Benedict and St. Bernard. Sculptor Mary Lewis will do these. Artist Tomasz Misztal has carved a 30” corpus for the processional cross. Finally, a large tapestry (6 feet wide and over 10 feet high) of Our Lady of Guadalupe will be woven in Belgium under the artistic direction of John Nava. This will be permanently mounted on the cross axis of the Church.
In addition to these fine artists there are numerous furniture makers, metal smiths and craftsmen of various media commissioned for the furniture and other items in the church. Everything for the church will be newly commissioned or venerable pieces from the patrimony of the monastery. There will be no catalog art or artifacts in this church.
Photo credit: J. David Richen
Read more in coming months about this project.
J. David Richen is an Architect and Consultant to Religious Communities, who lives in Portland, Oregon.
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