The Abbey does not allow for easy identification of the Blessed Sacrament, and has virtually absented any distinction between the sanctuary and the nave. It is a thoroughly revolutionary structure which has subtracted almost all distinctively Catholic dimensions, including beauty.
|A Profane House|
Amid the almost universal acclaim for the admittedly modernist design of the Abbey church at a decaying American monastery, there is a moment of truth where authors describe the architectural design conceived by Jewish architect, Marcel Breuer, as modernist.
There are no professional criticisms for this attempt to render a church in any professional architectural digest, paper or publication. The silence is a reminder of the unpopulated if unpopular, courts, surrounded by brutal Courbousier tenements like out of a novel by Anthony Burgess . You will find no detailed criticisms of it anywhere, in fact, at least nothing direct. Perhaps nothing direct is necessary, for like the designs of Courboursier and Gropius, they seem to repel the people they were intended to house. .
Despite the current almost uncritical praise for the design, at least the critics were honest enough to describe it accurately as modernist.
As the contemporary silence upon the dubious achievement of the modernist church endures, an increasing silence grows around the Abbey church as the monks it was intended to serve decay and wither away without much hope of replacement. The church itself was conceived even before the Pastoral Council and its subsequent ravages as if a landscape was prepared for national emulation to poison the well of devotion which once inspired truly great works of art and lives spent in piety and gravitas.
If there are no direct criticisms of the Abbey, there are others less direct, but just as devastating when we turn across the Atlantic to the fashionable Hamsted neighborhood where the literary Catholic, Evelyn Waugh was inspired as much as he was amused by Hungarian modernist architects of Jewish extraction from the Bauhaus school.
Marcel Breuer was a designer of Ikea-like furniture for a UK based company called Isokon in the 30s. He even lived in hideous modernist flats of the same name, designed by the company in posh Hamsted not too far from Evelyn Waugh whose satirical portrait, Otto Silenius, must have been a composite of Breuer himself and his mentor, Gropius, and other sinister architects in 'Handful of Dust'.
Isokon was also the name of some ugly flats which was the nest of Doctor Deutsch, a Central European Communist, who recruited the Cambridge 5.
|Isokon Flats from the 30s|
It's not just the literary world which offers criticisms of Breuer's handful of concrete and dust, but it's nature herself an the hierarchy of the Church. The first Mass said at the Abbey church, and the building itself was not without controversy. Indeed, if one of the late monks can be believed, a former Olympic wrestler who abandoned his dreams of gold medals to become a priest, said that a crack opened up during the first Mass and that "I was afraid of what was going to come up out of that crack." As one Bishop Brady of Sioux Falls once prophetically remarked, "...you will not get by with the building of that church you are planning.” [cf. Commonweal, The Monks and the Modernism]
Truth be told, like the company founded by Gropius and Brueuer, as well as the dilapidated Isokon flats themselves, is defunct and desolate, a fate which will soon be shared by the modernist St. John's Abbey which seems destined to become as desolate and lifeless as the bottom of the Dead Sea.