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Menis, Fernando - VM - Koenraad De Wolf

Fernando Menis: Holy Redeemer Church in Tenerife

 A High Point of Current Religious Architecture

by Koenraad De Wolf

This masterwork of architect Fernando Menis was dedicated on Sunday 12 May 2019

In Tenerife on Sunday 12 May 2019 the consecration of the new church of the internationally renowned Spanish architect Fernando Menis took place. This minimalist concrete architecture, in which the sparse interior provision of light determines the spiritual atmosphere, is a rare masterwork of contemporary religious architecture.

The 67-year-old Spanish architect Fernando Menis (b. 1951) was born and raised in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. He acquired international recognition with his pioneering concrete architecture. The saying ‘A prophet is not without honour, except in his own country’ does not apply to Menis. He executed several commissions in Tenerife, such as the Museum of Religious Art in Adeje, the imposing Magma Art and Congress Centre and the new principal seat of the government of the Canary Islands. The fact that his brother was governor of the archipelago no doubt played a part, but again and again he produced buildings of a rare high quality.

In the meantime Menis heads up a renowned international architect bureau with offices in Tenerife, Madrid and Valencia. In past decades he designed a number of monumental buildings spread over the whole of Europe. A survey is available on the internet. However, he retained his connection with Tenerife. Menis, who got married in the 1970’s in the church of San Cristóbal de la Laguna, promised to design a new church for this fast-growing parish. He started designing it in 2005. The church is a monumental, imposing building in concrete, pushing back the frontiers, completely in line with his oeuvre. The structural work was completed, but there was no money available for the finishing touches. In expectation of sufficient funds to finish the building, a temporary church was furnished in the Community Centre.

I visited the church in 2015. It took a lot of searching to find it. We intentionally searched for it on a Sunday morning, in the supposition that a mass would take place. Only after much roaming around in this new suburb did we find the church. In the end it was the sound of hymns that led us to the completely closed-off location. After the service a number of volunteers and the amiable pastor led us via a long staircase towards the as yet unfinished new church. What we saw was a revelation.

In 2015 the still unfinished space of concrete walls looked rough and extremely austere. Every form of decoration was intentionally excluded in order to allow the light to play its full part. The interior space looks quite dark. The incidence of light occurs indirectly via the side walls, but all attention is drawn automatically towards two widening clefts in the concrete at the back that form an asymmetric cross. This ‘cross of light,’ the pre-eminent symbol of Christendom, makes the spiritual dimension palpable. The rough concrete is the carrier, but it is the immaterial light that determines the atmosphere. But there is more. The ingenuity of this ‘architecture of light’ also produces a subtle dynamic. In the morning the light that enters illuminates the baptismal font. In the afternoon the altar and the lectern are illuminated by the light of the sun, as the liturgical celebrations, where God’s word is proclaimed, take place around midday.

This newest creation of Menis fits seamlessly in the history of architecture. In Roman architecture the little windows were placed as high as possible in the wall – with reference to the divine and heaven. By emphasizing verticality, Gothic architecture went one step further. Cathedrals were being built to a height of 48 metres. That verticality is also powerfully present in this new church of Menis, where the vertical beam of light widens towards the top.

It was my firm conviction that this masterpiece of Menis would remain unfinished. However, I was greatly surprised when some members of my family went to look for the church of Menis recently. They also found it only after much searching and wandering about. I was overjoyed when they told me that the church, which had been finished, would be consecrated on 12th May 2019. They received a guided tour from the still enthusiastic pastor but were not allowed to take photos inside. That would only be allowed after Sunday 12th May. In the meantime we have to be satisfied with the photos of 2015.

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Photo 1: Three massive concrete pieces have been placed in close proximity.

Photo 2: The 'cross of light' as seen from inside.

Photo 3: The front of the church (seen from the inner courtyard).

Photo 4: The window at the front as seen from the outside.

Koenraad De Wolf (1956) is a Belgian historian and publicist. He published several books about contemporary religious art and in 2009 wrote a monograph about Johannes Wickert (a contemporary German artist, professor at the University of Cologne, who has written on Einstein and Newton). For more information, see: www.koenraaddewolf.be.

ArtWay Visual Meditation July 14, 2019