The Most Beautiful Modern Church Altar We've Ever Seen [Slideshow]

Mathieu Lehanneur, a Frenchman known for organic forms, creates a rippling choir out of slabs of marble.

A Romanesque church might be the last place you'd expect to see a sprawling modern pulpit. And yet that's exactly what the St. Hilaire in Meile, France, got, thanks to the French designer Mathieu Lehanneur, who loosely modeled his renovation on a sedimentary formation in the church's basement.

The idea to work with a designer came from the priest.

But the idea to work with a designer came from the priest, who contacted the Regional Office of Cultural Affairs and organized a competition; Lehanneur won based on his previous work, which mixes minimalism with big-impact forms derived from nature. The church proved to be an angelic client, giving the designer carte blanche, provided he didn't break any liturgical codes. The new choir reads like a topographical map made from slabs of marble, creating a fluid contrast to the precise Romanesque geometry.

According to the overwrought press release:

Just like a "box" sunk into the sand, the church in fact gives the impression of nestling in the landscape. It's not just a building placed on the ground but part of the region and reveals itself to visitors as they descend. The main idea of the project was then to accentuate this sensation of progressive discovery and taking root in the land.

The altar and ambo are made from a colored alabaster that matches the original stone of the church. A water-filled depression in the marble block forms the baptistery. Overall, it's a stunning installation, as well as an indication of this particular church's bold vision.

[Photos by Felipe Ribon]

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  • Jc Fadot

    Hmm ... Martin, the building code would'nt allow for the whole church either. It would probably erase much of France's cathedrals. Some aesthetic sense has to be provided to the code, I may imagine.

  • Tom Cain

    What if somebody elderly, disabled or unfit is saying Mass or doing a reading? I don't think the platform is liturgically compliant. The altar, ambo and presider's chair are unexceptional. Is there a provision for infant baptism? It would be interesting to understand how this assemblage works...

  • Martin A. Rose

    Beautiful yes, but (at least in the United States) does not appear to be building code compliant. True architectural design aesthetics must be both.