Women building churches

2017-07-01 L’Osservatore Romano

One stone after another, lifted with bare hands to reach the slopes of Potosí. So it was that a group of 50 small women, all of them with black plaits and multi-layered coloured skirts, built the minuscule church perched high above the road to the Cordillera Real, at an altitude of 6,088 metres, 25 km north of La Paz. One arrives at the church by a very steep flight of steps among splendid panoramic views where bricks of clay mixed with straw are superimposed on the typical polygonal cut stones of the Incas. In this combination of materials we see the indissoluble connection with nature, the country side and popular piety, never broken – that links the indigenous peoples of Bolivia and of southern Peru.

Historically, women throughout the world have always made a crucial contribution to building churches, chapels and places of prayer with their desire, their determination and their personal sacrifice, even sometimes going as far as acting as architects in these projects. And if, as Eva Hinds, the creator of the splendid Cardedeu Chapel one hour’s drive from El Salvado, tells us in this issue, there is no specifically female feature in architecture, it is nonetheless true that in planning and designing women show special sensitivity to the needs of those who will frequent these places, of those who need these spaces in order to live.

The Church, understood as a Christian community, is a body in continuous transformation, hence so too are its places for celebration, as Francesca Daprà of the Milan Polytechnic maintains in this issue, asking what are the needs of today’s inhabitants with respect to buildings of worship. This is a question that finds a possible answer in the piece on Daphne Acton, written by her son, in which the idea of a multi-ethnic African church inspired a whole architectural project. (silvina pérez