Jesus, Mary and Joseph:
A Subversive Catholic Church
Designer & Modeler
This is a proposal for a 3D interactive space that explores my complicated relationship with the Catholic church (groundbreaking subject matter!). Jesus, Mary and Joseph was created using Rhino 3D, Unity, Illustrator and Photoshop.
First communion was never an option. Not in Dromahair, at least. The 800-person village in the Northwest of Ireland where I was born and raised carries a certain rustic charm, albeit with a heavy price tag: a whole lot of Catholicism.
I was baptized when I was seven years old, which in Ireland means you’re going straight to hell. My parents wanted me to be able to make my own decision about my religious affiliation, and so I chose to be Catholic — largely because I saw how much cash my brother got from family and friends for his confirmation.
First communion doesn’t quite have the same box office results as confirmation, but I was looking forward to it nonetheless. I was eight, and the Irish elementary education system made every effort to prepare me for my lifetime of servitude to the Lord our Father in Heaven. To my teachers it meant practices, choir recitals, hymn readings. To me it meant time off class, with the delightful bonus of possible eternal salvation. I sort of saw it as a fun insurance policy, not that I knew what an insurance policy was then, or even today.
The ceremony took place in the one Catholic church in our diocese of Drumlease, and like most Irish Catholic spaces, it is in bizarre taste. Everything exterior is monochromatic: grey walls, grey roof, grey tombstones, grey pebble-dash pavement, grey gate. It’s grim, but not in the beautifully bleak way that Ireland can be. It’s just grim, and stained by decades of rain, which falls most days of the year here.
Inside is a different story: there’s a lot of colour, and much of it is bad. The walls of the four-tennis court-long nave are painted in a pale yellow, and the various signs of chipping and cracking reveal the church’s age and the level of upkeep.
The five tall sanctuary walls are punctuated by elaborate stained glass work, and the ceiling is a fresco-style depiction of various Bible scenes, though I’ve never been able to suss them out. I know one of the paintings has a bunch of sheep, though.
The nave rafters have always been my favourite part of the church: wooden, elaborate, and interesting to look at when the priest is going on about a story, likely one with a bunch of sheep in it.
But it was an exciting space the day of the communion; it was our space. We were the stars of the show, not Paul, or Peter. It suited my nascent narcissism nicely. The event itself I don’t remember especially well, but I remember the afterparty in the village’s one hotel down the street. I was wearing a white linen suit, because I was That Guy. Our class went into the hotel garden, a space I know better than any space at Boston College. We were playing and it was fun. At one point someone got a ball stuck in an giant hedge, and naturally I jumped right in and climbed up to get it.
When I emerged from the bush, my white suit was covered in green stains. Four years later I would choose another bush-emerger, Moses, as my confirmation name.
I decided to design a new kind of Catholic church for rural Ireland, one that smashes together my childhood innocence with the scandals of abuse and dysfunction that continue to plague the Church to this day. Jesus, Mary and Joseph – a common exclamation of the 84% of the Irish population that is Catholic – is the name of said space.
I see it as the Holy See's picture of Dorian Gray: it is the physical manifestation of the Church's perversions, ills, and wrongdoings. As a designer, I want to take Ireland's typical all-grey, Roman-style church, and subtly subvert it in every way that I could think of.
I started with size. I wanted the space to echo how claustrophobic these churches can feel, so I played with scale in different ways. The most obvious way I did this was with the building size: it's tiny. You can't get through the main door without kneeling – heavy-handed metaphor alert – and upon entry you see four pews, which collectively can hold a grand total of eight to nine people. This represents the church's future Sunday crowds if it continues to espouse policies that marginalize women and minorities.
The church looks like it's built to scale from the outside, like a reverse Casino at Marino. There's a tiny stone wall with a tiny gate that comes up to your ankles, to add to the confusion. If you're at somewhat of a distance, you can't really tell you're being pranked. It's a bit like this great moment on Father Ted.
The other major scale decision I made was to make the watch tower – traditionally slightly taller than the main building – absolutely massive. It completely dwarfs the church, and I offset the size differential by placing it much further away and at a lower elevation. The end result is that upon approach the church and tower appear perfectly normal, but get any closer and things begin to unravel (much like yours truly).
Here are a series of architectural drawings (plans/sections/elevations/axonometric) that I completed of my 3D model.