Buildings designed by human beings for worshipping God differ greatly in size, style, and expense, but they all aim to stir feelings of reverence and awe.
In Americas Houses of Worship, a one-hour documentary to be broadcast at 9 p.m. Monday on WGTE-TV (Channel 30), the buildings are the stars of the show as the camera lingers over some of the most majestic structures in the nation.
Explaining the significance of the buildings are clergy, historians, architects, and tour guides, each with specific knowledge of the particular house of worship, in videos intertwined with footage of the buildings interiors and exteriors.
The diversity of the worship spaces in the program is stunning, from the brick-and-wood, colonial-era churches like St. Lukes in Smithfield, Va., and the Old Ship Meeting House in Hingham, Mass., to the futuristic glass-and-steel Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif., and the innovative Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Beth Shalom Synagogue in the Philadelphia suburb of Elkins Park, Pa.
Unfortunately, Beth Shalom is the only non-Christian facility in this program. With Americas increasingly pluralistic makeup, it would have behooved the producers to showcase some of the nations Islamic mosques and a few temples built by Hindus, Buddhists, Bahais, and other faith groups.
Despite this glaring omission, the structures in Americas Houses of Worship all merit a close look and offer unique combinations of architectural, historic, and artistic elements designed to inspire visitors to reach for new spiritual heights.
Some of the churches clearly reflect the Old World roots of the American immigrants who gather to worship.
St. Lukes, for example, founded in 1632, is the nations oldest Gothic structure and was designed by the settlers to duplicate the churches of England. These colonists did not come to America in search of religious freedom but to start new lives, and felt no compulsion to assert their independence from Britain.
Beth Shalom was a bold and independent design by Wright, one of Americas most revered architects. Built in 1954, the "luminous Mount Sinai" exterior design and the soaring, 100-foot-high interior space are assertions that, for the first time, Jews "are at home in America," Rabbi David Glanzberg-Krainin says in the program.
Other houses of worship featured are First Baptist Church, Providence, R.I.; Mission San Xavier del Bac in Tucson, Ariz.; the Cadet Chapel at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.; Our Lady of Victory Basilica and National Shrine in Buffalo, N.Y.; Trinity Church in New York City; Trinity Episcopal Church in Boston, Mass.; the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis, Mo., and the Washington National Cathedral in Washington.
Among some of the programs most interesting insights:
wCongress granted a charter in 1893 to establish the National Cathedral, but the building was funded entirely by private donations. In one of its 200 stained glass windows is a sliver of moon rock, donated by the crew of Apollo 11.
wThe Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis contains the largest collection of mosaics in the world, with 41 million pieces of tile.
wThe church organ in the Cadet Chapel at West Point is the largest in the world, with 23,000 pipes up to 32 feet high. "It can really raise a ruckus," organist Craig Williams says.