Guest lecturer discusses architectural preservation of Medieval churches

Estefania Espinosa

In 1420, the Pope returned to Rome and found the city’s churches were falling apart. Many were rebuilt, but there are four churches in particular that remain in a hybrid state.

Dale Kinney, professor at Bryn Mawr College near Philadelphia, discussed the process by which these Medieval churches — St. Peter’s Basilica, Santa Maria in Trastevere, Santa Maria Maggiore and St. Paul’s Cathedral — were rebuilt, renovated, remodeled or reimagined in her Monday lecture, “An Infinity of Churches Without Roofs.”

Kinney, who holds a Ph.D. in fine arts, said that although some historians have called the churches “hodgepodge,” she appreciates the display of different types of architecture, all representing a specific century.

“It’s an assemblage of historical interventions,” Kinney said. “The building is the result of many efforts and many moments in time, and they are all simultaneously existing.”

Art history professor Joan Holladay, who coordinated Kinney’s visit, said her lecture is part of a team-taught graduate seminar, which was sponsored by a grant from the Kimbell Foundation.

“We try to find somebody who would add to but not necessarily duplicate what we’ve done in class,” Holladay said. “Sometimes you look for somebody whose work you have assigned.”

The grant also allowed 10 graduate students to visit the Santa Maria in Trastevere, one of the churches discussed by Kinney, according to Holladay.

“We were very grateful to be able to make a trip to see the things we were talking about in class,” Holladay said. “And that’s really the way you should do art history: on-site.”

English graduate student Rachel Roepke, who specializes in Medieval literature, said she enjoyed Kinney’s explanation of changing perspectives regarding how historical structures should be treated over time.

“I loved the way she traced … over the course of time, different perspectives on how to rebuild churches and keep them standing,” Roepke said.

Roepke also spoke of the importance of studying the Medieval time period and how it affects modern society, such as the plot of Star Wars being influenced by the Medieval quest for the Holy Grail.

“I think that it is an era that so often we distance ourselves from, but there are so many elements of the Medieval that we see all of the time today,” Roepke said. “They were thinking about really interesting things — things that we still talk about today.”

Kinney said since doing her dissertation on the Santa Maria in Trastevere, she has a newfound appreciation.

“I’m very interested in it now as a living community, as well as this nice piece of architecture,” Kinney said.