Irvine, “Stability, Continuity, Place”

November 5, 2013

Irvine, Richard D. G. 2013. Stability, Continuity, Place: An English Benedictine Monastery as a Case Study in Counterfactual Architecture. In Religious Architecture: Anthropological Perspectives edited by Oskar Verkaaik. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, pp.25-45

Abstract:

Taking as its focus Downside Abbey, a Catholic English Benedictine monastery in Somerset, England, this paper explores what kind of home a monastery is. The call to monastic stability is expressed within the architecture of the Abbey in two ways: Firstly, by shaping the monk’s movement throughout his daily routine and his life cycle, the monastery makes possible a radical commitment to place. Secondly, by expressing the continuity of monasticism in English history, the Abbey creates a sense of historical stability in place of rupture – a visible sign of the monastic family as an enduring unit. In this sense, the Abbey puts forward an English vision of Catholicism and monasticism running counter to claims that Catholicism was Roman and thus fundamentally foreign. The Abbey thus serves as a piece of counterfactual architecture: a building which asks provocative “what if” questions, inviting aesthetic and moral comparisons and showing a possibility of what might have been – and what could still be.

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