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Original design consultant returns to explain unique approach at Risen Christ

Updated: Dec 7, 2022

The following story appeared in the November 18 Idaho Catholic Register.

Risen Christ Parish in Boise has a circular worship space, with the altar at the center. Its design has architectural precedent in ancient churches, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the Basilica of St. Stephen and Church of St. Constanza in Rome. Risen Christ’s departure from the more popular basilica-style (cross-shaped) churches makes the church unique in the Diocese of Boise. (ICR photos/Ann Bixby)

By Emily Woodham

Staff Writer

As Risen Christ Catholic Community in Boise grows with new members, many have questions about the unique design of the church. Its modern lines and minimalist feel stand out in the Diocese of Boise. Most churches in the Diocese use a basilica-style (cross-shaped) worship space with stained glass windows, devotional statues and other elements of a traditional Catholic Church.

“Through conversations with our new community members, we hear a few common remarks,” said Audrey Weiss, coordinator of parish life at Risen Christ. “Some have concerns about the design of the sanctuary, and some are awed by the architecture and authentic Idaho elements — the use of local stone, metal and sculptors.”

To explain the choices of design at Risen Christ, Father Ben Uhlenkott, pastor, invited the original liturgical design consultant for the church, Father Mark Joseph Costello, to give a series of presentations during the first weekend of November.

The dove tabernacle above is based on early Church tabernacles - traced to the 5th century - that were suspended over altars to signify the Holy Spirit at the consecration. (ICR photo/Ann Bixby)

Father Costello, who is provincial for the Detroit-based Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph, has a Masters of Fine Arts in interior architecture from the Art Institute of Chicago. He consulted Risen Christ nearly 20 years ago when it was first being planned with Hummel Architects in Boise.

Father Costello referred to liturgical documents as the basis of his presentations, particularly “Built of Living Stones,” which was published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2000.

The three necessary elements for a Catholic Church, he explained, are the altar, the ambo and a chair.

With the understanding that all else in a church building is not essential, Father Costello said, the parish discussed and approved the minimalist design, which reflects the first centuries of the Catholic Church (a period usually referred to by historians as the “Primitive Church”).

The design was also influenced by Vatican II, which called the Church to go back to the sources of the Catholic liturgy and faith, he said. “It’s not about decorating a surface or a building. It’s about creating a place for the sacred, which for us as Roman Catholics involves a lot more than just listening to the Word and perhaps entering into a brief procession to receive the Eucharist,” Father Costello said.

One of the most unique aspects of Risen Christ is that the altar is in-the-round, with pews and seating turned toward the altar in the center of the worship space. This was meant to bring focus on the altar as the symbol of Christ and also members of the community who face one another as the Body of Christ, Father Costello said.

The tabernacle, which is an interpretation of dove-shaped tabernacles, used as early as the 5th century in churches, is set to the side and front of the church. This was not meant to be permanent, Father Costello explained, as the space was meant to expand into a day chapel with the Blessed Sacrament.

Understanding that the church was designed for eventual expansion helps explain many of the choices for the architecture, he said.

Father Costello said he hopes the parish will take time and care in its choices, whether that be expanding or incorporating more art.

“Take a look at what would both embellish this space and what could also help us pray even better here,” he said. “We’ve got these beautiful forms, beautiful materials here. What a place to start from!”

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it, please consider buying a subscription to the Idaho Catholic Register. Your $20 yearly subscription also supports the work of the Diocese of Boise Communications Department, which includes not only the newspaper, but this website, social media posts and videos. You can subscribe here, or through your parish, or send a check to 1501 S. Federal Way, Boise, ID, 83705: or call 208-350-7554 to leave a credit card payment. Thank you, and God bless you.

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