Tianjin Lesson Six: Christian Religious Architecture

Nimen Hao,

welcome to lesson six. Today we will talk about religious architecture in the West and in China.


Talking about Religious architecture

The planned repairs after fire at Notre Dame in Paris made me think about the beauty of some of the world’s religious architecture. So for the rest of this class I thought we could talk a little about Christian architecture. These kinds are common throughout the world, and can be found throughout China too.

Christian clergy

Priests: a person, usually a man, who has been trained to perform religious duties in the Christian Church, especially the Roman Catholic Church. Usually responsible for a parish (the members of his faith in his local area)

Vicar: a priest in the Church of England who is in charge of a church and the religious needs of people in a particular area

Bishop: a priest of high rank who is in charge of the priests of lower rank in a particular area

Monks: a member of a group of religious men who do not marry and usually live together in a monastery. Often called Brothers (as in Brother Mark, Brother Jon …)

Nuns: a member of a female religious group that lives in a convent.

Often called Sisters (as in Sister Ruth, Sister Sarah, …)

Religious buildings:

Cathedral: very large, usually stone, building for Christian worship. It is the largest and most important church of a diocese

Barcelona Cathedral, Catalonia, Spain.

Church: a building for Christian religious activities


Chapel:a room that is part of a larger building and is used for Christian worship

A chapel in Fitzrovia, London. Originally part of the Middlesex hospital

priory: a building where monks or nuns live, work, and pray


Monastery: building in which monks live and worship


Nunnery/Convent: a building in which nuns (= members of a female religious order) live ????


Rectory: the house in which a priest (rector) lives


Vicarage: the house in which a vicar lives


Notre Dame Cathedral.


Notre Dame means a lot to the French.Let’s watch a clip to see how they responded to the fire (clip to be played in class).

After the fire there have been many plans for rebuilding the damaged parts of Notre Dame Cathedral.

Proposed Notre Dame Swimming Pool: Hao bu Hao?
proposed stained glass roof for Notre Dame

The building of Notre Dame began in 1163. It took about 200 years to complete. The period of construction lasted from the 12th to 14th centuries. This period is sometimes called the early middle ages, or the early medieval period.

It was  from oak, stone, and glass. Later, in the 19th century a lead covered spire was added.

Let’s have a look at some images.


it has beautiful stained glass windows in the shape of a rose
Notre Dame’s ribbed vault
Notre Dame Alter and statues of Christ and the saints


Let’s have a look at a short video of the Cathedral (as it was a month before the fire).

Notre Dame is an example of what we call Gothic Architecture.

The cathedral shows the influence of earlier cultures in several ways:

  • First, it is built on the site of a Gallo-Roman temple dedicated to the Roman God Jupiter. It shares features of the earlier architecture of the Roman Empire, and of Islamic architecture.
  • Second, many of its decorative statues were designed to appeal to common people, who had pagan beliefs that were older than Christian beliefs. These are chimera.
Chimera: a goat, a heron, a styrge




The devil at the north gate
  • Third, the way the structure reaches up to the sky and lets in the light reflects the way that common people used to worship nature. Pagan worshipped in a clearing in the forrest, looked up towards the sun through the tall trees.
Looking up through a forrest clearing

The Cathedral stone reaches up and curves inwards, encouraging worshippers to look up towards heaven,  in a space full of grace, beauty and peace (like a forrest).

Some architectural features

Two of the architectural features that help it to do that are the flying buttresses and the gargoyles.


The flying buttresses take the weight of the large heavy roof, so that the walls do not have to bear it.

The gargoyles help take the rain water away from the roof and the walls.

This video shows how (video to be played in class)

Tianjin’s St Joseph’s Cathedral





Discussion Exercise

  • Tell us about a religious building you know.
  • Describe it and where it is.
  • Tell us what kind of building it is it, what faith it belongs to.
  • Again, if you would like to, you can show us pictures when you talk about it.

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