‘Secrets of Sacred Architecture’ highlights three Wisconsin sites


April 12, 2022 Alyssa Beno

LeVar Burton

The third anniversary of the tragic fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral in April 2019 is a reminder of the strong emotional and historical connection that many people have with sacred buildings.

The secrets of sacred architecture, Premiering at 8 p.m. Monday, April 18 on PBS Wisconsin, is a new documentary that uncovers the design elements that make these structures so fascinating.

Narrated by LeVar Burton, the film looks specifically at America’s sacred buildings, ranging from grand cathedrals and simple country churches to synagogues and mosques. It includes three sites right here in Wisconsin: the Gates of Heaven Synagogue, Holy Hill Basilica (pictured above), and the Wisconsin Hindu Temple.

Sacred buildings are the lifeblood of communities across America, representing some of the greatest feats of innovative engineering and artistic design. Embedded in the architecture of these churches, synagogues, mosques and temples is a kind of secret language that influences both the worshipers inside and the wider culture outside. Examples include hidden messages in stained glass; the surprising reason for the high steeples; the influence of Mary Shelley Frankenstein about the gothic architecture and the curious gargoyle of the Washington National Cathedral that bears a remarkable resemblance to Darth Vader.

The secrets of sacred architecture includes buildings from across the United States, from the remarkable modernist chapel at Colorado’s Air Force Academy to New York’s Gothic St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which has long been the city’s tallest structure.

The art of church architecture includes many of the most surprising “secrets”. The film delves into the mystery of gargoyles, the psychology behind stained glass and the hidden meaning of Frank Lloyd Wright’s churches.

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