Friday, 2 April 2010

The Church in Taizé, Now and Then

Romanesque chruchAs readers of this blog will have noticed, the church at Taizé fascinates me. The last time I wrote about it, I wrote how the church expands and contracts with the seasons to accommodate more or fewer people (see here). But in this blog I am going to attempt to reconstruct its history.

When Frère Roger returned to Taizé after the war, he returned with three like-minded individuals and this was the beginning of the Taizé order. However, the order was not formalised until a couple of years later when the Taizé rule - a “parable of community” – had been written. On Easter day in 1949, seven brothers committed themselves to a life following Christ in simplicity, celibacy and community. This small community celebrated their daily rites in the Romanesque church in Taizé. This church is very small and as the numbers of summer pilgrims increased, the church became too small to house everyone who wanted to take part in the services. So early in the 60s it was decided that a bigger church be built.

1960s churchAfter the war, a German Christian movement was set up, by volunteers, to help countries who had suffered under the Nazis. It consisted of a group of architects who’s intention was to build symbols of reconciliation in places where the war had caused great pain. This group was called Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedensdienste, or Action Reconciliation Service for Peace (ARSP) and it still exists to day. It was in the early 60s that ARSP decided to work with the Taizé community to build the Church of Reconciliation. The monks designed the church and with the assistance of ARSP architects, its volunteer youth workers and other Taizé volunteers, the church rose out of the ground.

1980s church with tentThe floor area of the Romanesaue church was roughly 90 mˆ2, capable of housing 90 – 100 worshipers and the new Church of Reconciliation was about 1,020 mˆ2, well over ten times the size. It was a huge leap of faith to believe that this new church could ever be filled. But by the early 70s it was obvious that the community had in fact underestimated the size of church needed and in the height of those summers it had to erect circus style tents by the front entrance to increase capacity.

2000s churchThe tents were one option, but in the early 90s a more permanent structure was conceived and planning permission was then given to increase the size of the new church. The church has been added to over the years with extra length and extra wings so that the church is now not far short of 4,600 mˆ2. It has to be said though that even now in the height of summer the Saturday evening and Sunday morning services attract more people than the church can hold and many of the faithful have to follow the services from outside.

So in the course of 50 years the capacity of the church has increased from a tiny village church to a huge building which is ¾ of the size of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. It is now difficult to imagine that this was ever just a small community of 7 monks.

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