Religious architecture describes the designing of buildings used for religious purposes. Its function was a way of signaling and indicating sacred space. While religious art is the artistic visualization and symbolism through sculptures, artifacts and paintings to represent religious beliefs. Religious art and architecture has evolved throughout historical eras reflecting the influences of any given period. Among the factors that influence the evolution of Religious art and architecture include social-economic conditions, political factors, and geographical conditions including artistic and architectural trends than are prominent in any given period. Additionally, religious art and architecture has been highly influenced by the religious beliefs present in a given historical period throughout history. The art and architecture prominent in religious structures and space has often been used by different religious faith to symbolize their beliefs, and as well as their influences. Thus, art and architectural designs that can be found in different historical eras are a true reflection or signify the beliefs held during the various historical periods.
The world today is filled with a rich collection of religious art and architectural structures that signify the beliefs of the divergent religious faiths found throughout the world. These artistic visualizations and architectural designs also reflect the geographical circumstances of the each historical period including the social conditions, political circumstance present in the various historical eras. Throughout historical periods, the human beings have experienced differing social, economic political and geographical conditions. In each of these very circumstances, the artist and architects of the era have been profoundly influenced by the prevailing circumstances. Thus, their visual presentations and structures designed carry on the influencing circumstances.
Churches in this era were large, ornate and designed with architectural prestige giving rise to magnificent buildings that dominated towns, countryside and villages where they were erected. They were scattered all over Christian world, and were the focus of the communities where they were erected. Some of them still stand today and are regarded as excellent works in architecture. However, some of the regions had simpler structure that had local influences in design and the local technology.
The reformation was marked by the rise of the protestant movement and protest against the excesses of the Catholic Church leaders. During this period, especially in European, the society revolted against the Catholic Church especially the top leadership which was perceived by the public to be behaving as kings and, therefore, neglecting their spiritual need. This gave rise to the protestant movement which broke away from the Catholic Church resulting in what is commonly referred to as the church wars (Short, 2003, p. 246). The period was marked by destruction of the church building and the burning of artifacts that were prominent during this period. The protestant and Lutheran churches that emerged, therefore, sought to break away from many rituals and beliefs that were held by the Catholic Church in this era (Taylor, 1992, p. 13). The breakaway churches, therefore, differed not only in the way that they conducted their services but also in the leadership structure as wells as the symbolism and designs that were used by the Catholic Church at the time.
In this period, there was also remarked wealth as a result of explorations to far parts of the globe and the increase of imperialism. This gave the churches adequate resources to construct and design monumental church buildings that were decorated with artifacts made from gold and other valuable minerals that were discovered in far away lands. All these efforts were geared toward creating a better society and a knowledgeable human race. People in this period also begun to enjoy life more than the other periods. Life was now perceived to be more than passage of time awaiting the next life. The artists in this era, therefore, begun to paint and make artifacts for enjoyment rather than only as symbols with higher and mystical meaning. Similarly, religious buildings were constructed in better designs. The paintings in churches were, therefore, done to reflect the new freedoms and values and for visual enjoyment instead of having spiritual meanings and significance.
The beliefs of this period, thus, dramatically changed including the architecture and artistic symbolism used at the time. The reformation age was followed by the Enlightenment Era during this period the human race begun to embrace philosophical reasoning and scientific knowledge to answer most of the questions that they had about life (Hamm & Bast, 2003, p. 299). Enlightenment period was, therefore, marked with drastic changes in most of the earlier beliefs held. Scientific knowledge and philosophical reasoning became extremely influential in explaining some of the natural phenomena and occurrences that were believed to be mystical or divine. This led to further fuelling of the wars against the traditional faiths and beliefs. In addition to this, most of the religious rituals were abandoned as it become clear to the members of the society that some of the truths that the traditional churches used to advance were further from that. The new churches that emerged were, therefore, devoid of most artifacts that were used by the Catholic Church.
Construction and design of the new churches also differed to those that were present during the reformation era. Scientific knowledge also influenced the way that the new emerging churches were being designed. Such factors as the sound travels are taken into account leading to circular building in order for the congregations to hear their preachers clearly. The period also was characterized by education becoming widely sought as humans clamored to better themselves. The enlightenment age also gave rise to an intellectual movement that sought to improve human conditions through knowledge. Through reasoning, they were able to explain many ideas concerning nature, humans, and God enabling them to gain acceptance throughout the world. Their influence in many aspects of human life becomes acceptable universally influencing art and architecture in other parts of the world beyond Europe (Short, 2003, p. 268). The human goals of rational minded individuals were considered in a many parts of the world as being in pursuit of knowledge, happiness and freedom. These widely accepted principles were largely reflected in both artistic and architectural works.
The society during this period sought to better the human race through knowledge and enlightened minds. They discovered the truth by applying reasoning and knowledge and in the process created and discovered more new knowledge. Individuals in the society become more enlightened churning most of their mystical beliefs this enlightenment further influenced the arts and architecture that were dominant in the period.The society also sought more freedoms from the authorities further freeing the communities. There was also less corruption both in churches and government and new emerging political ideologies. These new freedoms influenced the art and architectural design in this era. Additionally, scientific knowledge was used to design better structure as well as introduce new machineries that made construction work easier. The churches were, therefore, built in less time and better designs than in the earlier periods. The thinkers in Enlightenment era also sought to influence education by using art and architecture to provide educational examples that portrayed qualities and virtues that were deemed to be of the enlightened individuals (Van & Bussels, 2011, p. 119). The artists and architects in this era used their skills that mostly depicted outstanding examples of heroism, virtuous action, self-sacrifice, civic dedication and democratic principles that were emerging in governments.
Other factors could determine the designs used to build churches included the influence of local community, resources available and the population intended to be served (Homan, 2005, p. 159). The geographical location of the church was also a determining factor in church architecture. These factors are also influential in the modern church architecture churches. Therefore, they can be designed according to where they are located and depending on the resources available, not to mention the population density of their faithful.
The ideals of the modern era were deeply rooted in the Enlightenment period which saw scientific knowledge and discovery become the cornerstones of improving the quality of human life. Modern art and architecture was also directed towards further improvements in the society. The society today has more freedom than the last centuries and the society has become more individualistic. This is probably one of the reasons that there are so many religious denominations. To reflect the differences in faith and beliefs, different religious faiths use varying architectural designs that easily sets them apart from of religions. Religious art and architecture is, therefore, influenced by varied believes in order to set them apart from other faiths. The artifacts available in churches today can be at times be more for decorative purposes than symbolism. The cost also can determine the art and architectural designs available to a church.
Religious art and architecture was also altered significantly to signifying the changes that occurred during the reformation. More so the excess that led to the revolt, the Catholic Church leadership portrayed and were perceived to be immoral for perusing power and material wealth instead of providing their followers with spiritual guidance. In order to show or set new morality standards, the protestant built restrained churches that were devoid of the extravagant artifact displays. The leadership of the emerging churches also did not pursue power. They, therefore, restructured their church leadership hierarchy in a simpler manner with top leadership having less authority, unlike the papacy. These churches were simplified to symbolize their purpose as humble places of worship. The leadership in protestant churches also avoided being seen as powerful leaders. They, therefore, avoided perusing other powerful positions in their communities such as being patrons of the arts. This significantly reduced their influence in arts, and the results were that the arts become more independent and less influenced by the churches. This lead to more independent art forms that were had other themes besides divinity. In other words, art forms that had visualized other aspects of human life become popular also found their way into churches. Such themes as heroism, virtuous, daily struggles, happiness, freedom and sadness and family values among other themes become popular and enjoyable and begun to be displayed in the new emerging churches.
The new trends in construing unpretentious, independent places of worship become popular and were widely accepted. This lead to diversity in religious art and architecture this means that religious buildings could now take many forms and religious art could now be used to depict the new values that were emerging. This implies that the paintings and artifact that found their way in the emerging churches did not necessarily have to be religious but rather acceptable to the church members.
In conclusion, the reformation period was marked with many changes that included not only the church organizational structures but also more freedom and less bureaucracy to the new emerging churches that exist up-to-date. The changes affected all aspect of religion from the rituals to art and architecture.