Renovation of Famous Cathedral of St. Gall, Switzerland, Encounters Opposition – UPDATED 2-24

Renovation of the sanctuary of the cathedral of St. Gall (Sankt Gallen) in Switzerland is encountering opposition, KIPA/APEC reports. A petition, “Stop, Pause to Reflect” was begun on February 16th by the “Friends of the Foundation Church of St. Gall.” As of Friday, February 22nd, about 500 had signed the petition.

Work on the renovation project began on May 21st. The new altar was to be solemnly consecrated this coming fall. Estimated cost is 1.65 million Swiss francs, about 1.77 million U.S. dollars.

Adaptation for the new liturgical prescriptions resulting from the Second Vatican Council was never carried out in entirety, and the renovation was to improve upon a provisional solution. Moving the altar nearly in the middle under the cupola and placing a golden ring above it was the plan of the London architectural firm “Caruso St. John Architects.” (See the firm’s sketches here.)

The golden ring has encountered opposition among the people, and also with the government office for historical landmarks. Niklaus Ledergerber, leader of that office, said that the ring intrudes upon the space. “This is contrary to a fundamental principle of historical landmarks, that intrusions should be kept to a minimum.” Ledergerber does not believe that the ring is truly necessary in order to highlight the liturgical space.

The petition expresses opposition to the “construction of a new concrete altar with a floating gold ringlet, which is a foreign body under the cupola of the baroque Cathedral of St. Gall.” The petition warns of an “expensive and risky experiment” and calls for a pause for reflection to find a solution which “fits harmonically with the interior of the church.” The “Friends of the Foundation” say that they are open to anything which serves the general interest of the cathedral and its preservation.

UPDATE 2/24: The administrative council of the canton of St. Gall issued a statement Friday pointing out that the golden ring is not part of the approved plan and will not be installed, at least initially, when the sanctuary is renovated. The statement says that the “Friends of the Foundation Church of St. Gall” argued with false data, and their expression “concrete altar area” is a false accusation. The lower layer will be of poured concrete with terrazzo over it.

The administration does not understand why opposition is being mobilized now, since the project was announced two years ago and approved “with overwhelming majority.” Work on the project will begin May 21st. The London architectural firm “Caruso St. John Architects” has agreed for the plan to go forward without the ring, and so it is misleading to act as if the plan includes the ring.



  1. Thanks for the larger photo linked above.

    As they say: “It’s not home, but it’s much!”

    If there are any real architects or artists out there, I think the Pray Tell crowd would benefit from your expert comments. Some may find the space attractive, but is it quality? Help us out.

    1. Good question. I’m just guessing, but I think it’s maybe meant to somehow define or call attention to the altar area.

    2. @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #4:
      It’s explained in the architects explanations:

      The symbolism of circles, arcs and rings, latent within the existing architecture, is used to emphasise this gathering point in the heart of the church, in an open way that does not diminish the existing, expansive qualities of the Cathedral….

      Two elements forge this vertical connection between the new chancel and the dome above it. … A gilded ring suspended above the chancel forms a delicate halo over the altar area. The ring concentrates the geometry of the dome and draws in the architecture around it.

      I think the design is in many ways fine in itself, but totally out of place in this rococo setting. I’m generally not as concerned about stylistic unity as some folks are (I don’t care if you use baroque style vestments in a gothic revival church or gothic revival vestments in a baroque church, for instance.) But this is a huge modernist imposition.

      1. I agree with Samuel – not everything has to be in the same style, but this really doesn’t seem to fit here.

  2. Why, of course, the golden ringlet needs a few cherubs along with some dollops of bluish-grey whipped cream.

    Anyone can see that.

  3. It’s rather difficult to tell from the design renderings exactly what is being proposed.

    From what I can gather, it looks like the Baroque fabric of the Cathedral will remain completely intact. I think the only things that are changing is the addition of a more permanent predella, sanctuary furnishings, and the “ring.”

    It seems that the changes are largely positive, though I don’t particularly care for the acanthus leaves in the floor.

    As for the ring, it seems that it’s main purpose is to draw attention to the new liturgical furnishings. I’m not sure how well it actually achieves this, however.

    At any rate, it seems like all of these alterations would be easily removable, which is the main thing to consider when renovating historic buildings – at least in the United States.

  4. This does not fit.

    Btw, the “ring” is often called a “corona”. I like ciborios, baldachins and coronas to help allude to the vertical space over a free-standing altar. But this corona is not well designed, and I believe the corona idea does not work in such an exuberantly Rococo space.

  5. What is the third picture? Did they bring in a gold ring and set it up without the rest of the renovations? That could explain why it looks so awkward and out of place.

    The problem I’m guessing is that the cathedral decoration overwhelms the altar, cathedra, etc. It probably was a problem with it before the Council, an embodiment of the disengaged congregation that led to calls for fuller participation. Reconciling a distracting environment with a focus is not easy.

  6. The ring obviously is meant, in a minimalist sort of way, to define the sacred space of the relocated sanctuary. It is thoughtlessly imposed, however, in this gorgeous work of sacred architecture which is anything but minimalist. It is a cruel, amatuerish distraction in that it makes no sense in the expressive, ecstatic, energy of the colourful and sumptuous building in which it is inserted. It would make great sense in a modern church; but, in this setting it cannot achieve appropriate integration into the architectural vocabulary of historic St Gall’s language. It is the sort of thing that, sixty years from now, saner minds will get rid of when they decide to restore the building to its original splendour (while grumbling at the . Why, even, does one have to move the sanctuary in a church like this? Where in the records of Vatican II does it stipulate that every last architectural masterpiece from historical times must be savaged to make it fit a style of liturgy that is, after all, an unrequired option, an option that is callously destructive of the aesthesis of the host building. If this were my church, I should be livid and contemptuous of the oh-so-chich firm that came up with this cute, arrogant, and presumptuous halo which will contend with the architecture in such manner that both will be hopelessly robbed of their aesthetic integrity.

    Why not leave the sanctuary where it was and worship the mass as it has always been worhiped there out of respect for the church?! Who? Who! Could but feel blessed at the opportunity to worship on the terms offered by the untampered with church building???

    The ‘modern artist or architect’ in matters such as these is often (what ever his pedigree) a tinkerer with too much imagination and too little taste. Too much reputation and too little profound artistry and artful integrity to be worthy of doing justice to projects such as these.

    A FINAL OBSERVATION – that my remarks concerning Fr Anthony’s schola were somewhat less than appropriate…. (Continued)…

  7. I had not anticipated the injured feelings or conclusions of intent to denigrate. It was my conviction that I was talking to peers and colleagues and sharing some not totally unwarranted observations about the laudable work of Fr Anthony’s schola and how it might be improved. I, for one, am always appreciative of the criticism of my fellows. Sometimes it is totally off, and sometimes giving it its well-deserved attention has resulted in improved performace. Let me assure you, Fr, that the greatest impressions I had of your schola were
    enthusiasm, energy, attention to rhythmic structure, an admirable semiological approach, a heartfelt and spirited performance; and a palpable sense that the schola were overjoyed to be offering this sacred chant at the sacred liturgy; also, some very fine voices, both male and female. It was the reality of these numerous positive factors which led me to make, in all good will and intent, the earlier remarks that I did. I am sorry that they seemed negative to you. You do not need for me to say that you have some very great potential in your hands. I hope that you receive the joy of having it come to full bloom! And, that you might share a CD with us when the time is ripe!
    Best regards

  8. Darn, and here I was hoping they would finally build according to the ninth-century “Plan” with altars placed throughout the nave. Too traditional, I suppose.

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