Ringing the Changes

Blue RiderRichard Falkinger, Ringing the Changes: New Liturgy Versus Heritage. Chronicles 1971-2000, David Lovell Publishing, Melbourne, 2002 [1 86355 092 5], 144pp. p/b, 97 illustrations, including 6 colour plates, duotone & b&w plates, floor plans, sketches RRP $47.00.

In 1970 architect Richard Falkinger was given charge of the initial internal improvements to St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne. There began a professional involvement in the conservation, renovation and re-ordering of churches that has extended through three decades. Ringing the Changes is a chronicle of seven such projects, each characterized by the need to adapt existing ‘heritage’ church buildings—variously Gothic revival, decorated Gothic, baroque, and classical—to accommodate the post Vatican Council II renewed liturgical rites of the Catholic Church.

The projects documented in this volume are St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, St Mary’s Cathedral in Sale, St Patrick’s Cathedral in Ballarat, St Francis’ Church in Melbourne, Newman College Chapel in Melbourne, and Santa Maria in Vallicella in Rome.
The re-ordering of churches in the last forty or so years has attracted considerable controversy, both as regards the architectural heritage of older church buildings, as well as their perceived Catholic heritage when traditional forms of furnishing, ornament, devotion and art have been removed or altered in the name of achieving noble simplicity and suitability for current liturgical usage. Numerous studies of re-ordering projects in the USA and Europe have been made, but this is one of the few to focus mainly on Australian projects. As such, it makes an important contribution to local literature on the contemporary ordering of churches, while at the same time providing a record of some of the finest work undertaken in much admired older churches, buildings held in affection by many people.

As a chronicle, Ringing the Changes is both a record of projects and an autobiographical account. The record of projects is documented in each instance by an historical overview, a liturgical overview, the reproduction of important letters and other sources related to the project, floor plans, drawings and photographs. In the opinion of this reviewer, some of these projects have been more successful than others, though it must be acknowledged that the potential for successful re-ordering of church buildings will always be limited by the brief an architect receives.

The documented record is complemented by Falkinger’s personal account of each project, which at once traces the work undertaken, from architectural-liturgical brief to the completion of his commission, and recounts a personal journey that reveals the faith, dedication and vocation of the architect, and friendships formed along the way. An introductory essay, ‘The Architecture of Faith’, by Anthony J. Kelly CSsR, proposes a context for understanding and appreciating Falkinger’s work.

Ringing the Changes is a well-designed volume. It may have been enhanced had a standard been adopted for the presentation of floor-plans, for example by consistently showing the liturgical east or sanctuary end of each plan to the right of a page. And though Falkinger’s brief did not include the completion of the liturgical re-ordering of St Francis’ Church in 2000, it is disappointing that there is not a photograph of the church incorporating these recent changes, which he mentions in his text.

But these are relatively minor matters in what is quite a fine book, well deserving of recommendation.
— Stephen Hackett MSC

If you are interested Ringing the Changes is available through the Publisher David Lovell.