Church Lighting and Places of Worship

The key principle of the contemporary world is the recognition of religious freedom as an inalienable individual right. People have the right and duty to seek the truth, pursue their own happiness without coercion, and follow their conscience. This section contains church lighting projects and the lighting projects of other places of worship, such as the pagoda of the Chi Lyn Nunnery and its Main Hall. Places of worship require a very articulate and complex analysis, and not just from an architectural point of view; attention must be paid to the location, size, language, building techniques, symbols, cultural and sacramental actions, ceremonies, and events of a community but also individual nature. Each place of worship must respect sensory aspects related to the human sense of direction, participation, and meditation.

Hong Kong Chin Lin Main Hall
Monastero di Viboldone: Lights Projects - building lights
Hong Kong Chin Li Pagoda
Geneva Saint-Pierre Cathedral main view - museum lighting design
Fribourg St. Pierre Church in Switzerland - internal view
Church of Santa Maria Rossa - main project view
Pordenone St. Mark's Bell Tower night view - building lighting design
External view of the Church in Bironico

The Lighting of the Statues in “The Main Hall” in Hong Kong

Light is an essential design component for viewing an object in three dimensions, as it allows the form to be appreciated. The goal of mainly unidirectional light is to create a single coherent overall view, on which the gaze can linger and perceive the expressive intensity of each detail. In “The Main Hall” project, the subjects are the golden statues of Buddha. This space, like the whole structure of the architectural complex of the Nunnery, was built by interlocking all the wooden components without the use of nails to emphasize the harmony between mankind and nature. The concept followed this philosophy, making the work as least invasive as possible, concealing the lighting equipment from the eye of the observer. The lighting design involves due scenarios for illuminating the statues:

  • Frontal lighting of the statues. Using track-mounted projectors with 19-degree optics, whose composition of beams produces even lighting with high illuminance values, emphasizing the importance of the role of divinities in Buddhist worship.
  • Lighting of the statues from above. To bring out and emphasize the facial features, with strip LEDs installed in the profile of the roof structures of each individual statue.

The technical features of the devices used for the general lighting are the same as those of the projectors used for the statues. This helps to maintain the uniformity of the visual field. The devices exclusively use LED sources, with a high color rendering index, to ensure the best perception of the color output.

Church Lighting Design – Outdoor Lighting Project

Religious architecture is very complex as it caters to the rituals that must be accommodated (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, etc.). Outdoor architectural lighting must emphasize the construction details of the façades, sculpting the volumes, attracting interest and conveying emotions, guiding worshippers at the beginning of their spiritual journey.

The bell tower is a very important reference point as it gives people bearings in the urban landscape. Often, it also indicates the center of a village or city, in the case of a cathedral. However, the bell tower is not just a visual feature; it is also profoundly symbolic. This value is emphasized in the project for the Ancient Bell Tower of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Pordenone, where the goal of the lighting project was to redesign its impact at night, making it as visible by night as it was by day. To achieve this goal, a set of projectors equipped with optics and refractor was positioned on the roof of the building opposite the church, concealed from view. Another important aspect of the lighting design concerns the façades at night. If set up well, the system can emphasize, for example, the link between monumental churches and their surrounding environment and the interweaving relationships between city and religious life, which, for many centuries, formed the basis of and catalyzed all human activities. The concept must unfold while adhering to the architectural properties and the construction details of the façade, the physical characteristics of the building and cladding materials used, the presence of any obstructions to viewing, the lighting state of the surrounding area, the main viewing directions, and the distances from which the facades must be visible. It is interesting to use light to reveal constructions features, which, due to their position, would otherwise be little known or even ignored.

Let’s look at the St. Pierre Cathedral: at night, the cathedral must be part of the general landscape, appearing with moderation in the setting, while maintaining the strong image and predominant role it plays during the day. With uniform illuminance levels, the lighting design project evokes the light of the full moon. The projectors are installed on the roofs of nearby buildings. In addition to not covering the building with equipment, this design decision allowed us to create even lighting. The technology currently available enables the intensity of light to be controlled and the electricity supply to be reduced late at night. This weakens the illuminance levels without jeopardizing the strong predominant presence of the cathedral in the urban setting. The system includes devices that produce dynamic colored light, which can be used during festivities, anniversaries, and special ceremonies and signal the presence of events to the surrounding territory.  Another important aspect of the nightscape is the square in front of the place of worship.

Church LightingInterior Lighting Design

Church lighting design must consider that the space is recognized as sacred. In a Christian and more specifically Catholic setting, the church is the building that defines the sacred space. It has a symbolic, liturgical and architectural value. The lighting project has two key roles:

  • It must support prayer, taking into account the dominant aspects of spirituality and meditation. Solemnities, ordinary liturgies, and individual or small-group prayer have different lighting requirements.
  • It must bring out the architectural and artistic values that characterize the place of worship.

The following aspects are fundamental:

  • Historical knowledge of the artistic, architectural, and symbolic values that characterize the subject of the lighting project.
  • Close collaboration with the public administrations, with the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and with the superintendency for Environmental and Architectural Heritage.
  • Daylight must be taken into account.
  • Devices must be positioned to prevent glare.
  • Designing an articulate and flexible church lighting system that can cater to all types of use: service/permanent lighting, lighting for ordinary functions, lighting for solemnities, lighting for visits/studies, the lighting of events, and conservative lighting.
  • Complying with the regulations in force
  • LED lighting systems with high efficiency that result in substantial energy savings.

The illuminance levels in church interior lighting must comply with the hierarchy of the spaces and be based on several fundamental goals:

  • Allowing the celebrant to carry out his roles.
  • Enabling the congregation to take part in the celebrations.
  • Enhancing the spaces with cultural, decorative, and symbolic value.

The Lighting of Places of Worship During Visits or Exhibitions

Cultural or study visits have totally different needs from those of worship: the lighting, in this case, must enable a suitable approach to the artworks, as in museum spaces.

  • General lighting: This refers to the general environment of the central nave and transept and, in particular, of the area occupied by the worshippers during the prevalent celebrations.
  • Accent lighting: This concerns the altar, the pulpit, the reliquaries, and the areas dedicated to the readers and the presbytery for the ministers.
  • Decorative lighting of architectural-structural elements: This concerns the lighting of the church vault, arches, floral decorations, etc.
  • Lighting for solemnities: This generally refers to the environment where the faithful worship during particularly significant liturgies such as Christmas, Easter and other important feast days.
  • Lighting for specialist or study visits: This concerns the lighting of the artworks.
  • Service or permanent lighting: This is necessary when the amount of natural light is completely or partially insufficient to ensure the minimum conditions for usability.

An example of a church LED lighting system project is the Abbey of Saints Peter and Paul. It consists of a church dating back to 1176 and an adjoining Prior house, now partly allocated to guest quarters. The concept aims to enhance the frescoes, highlighting their colors and scenes. For this purpose, small, specially designed LED devices with a high color rendering index were placed near the capitals of the individual columns. The fixtures were equipped with dimmable power units so that the artificial light could be adapted to the natural light, also enabling different light scenarios depending on the functions and activities regularly carried out in the abbey.