The Roofless Church
420 North St., New Harmony, Indiana 47631
An architectural monument designed by renowned architect Philip Johnson. The non-denominational church is open to the public and operated under the auspices of the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis. It was commissioned by the late Jane Blaffer Owen, founder of the Robert Lee Blaffer Foundation and a New Harmony resident passionate about preserving nature. Johnson and Owen envisioned a church where the only roof large enough to encompass a world of worshippers was the sky. The church was dedicated in 1960. Today, in addition to being a tourist attraction, the Roofless Church is a popular site for weddings and other sacred ceremonies.
The church is an open park surrounded by a brick wall. At one end of the park is a dome covered in cedar shingles, shaped in folds that look somewhat like draped cloth. Some interpret the shape as an inverted rosebud, and it is said that the structure casts the shadow of an open rose. The golden rose was the symbol of the utopian community that founded the town. Although a Biblical quotation on the structure mentions the rose, there is no evidence that the architect intended it to resemble, or cast the shadow of, an actual rose. At the top of the dome is an oculus, or round opening. Under the dome is a statue, also commissioned by Jane Blaffer Owen, by Jacques Lipchitz. At the end of the enclosed park is a balcony that looks out onto open farmland.
The Jacque Lipchitz sculpture, “The The Descent of the Holy Spirit,” was done in bronze. The inscription in French on the back of it, translates: “Jacob Lipchitz, Jew, faithful to the faith of his ancestors, has made this virgin for the good will of all mankind that the spirit might prevail”. There are two other originals of the statue, one in the Roman Catholic Church of Assy, Haute Savoire, France; the other in the Ecumenical Abbey of Iona, Scotland.
The Roofless Church is significant not only for its historic location, however, but for the prominence of its architect. Philip Johnson was one of the most important figures in 20th-century American architecture. As the primary proponent of the International Style, he was responsible for the glass and steel structure of many of the country’s most famous skyscrapers, including the Seagram Building in New York City, which he designed with Mies van der Rohe. He eventually tired of the International Style’s rigid formalism and started working just in glass. Two of his most famous glass structures are the Glass House, his own residence in New Canaan, Connecticut, and the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California. The Roofless Church is a minor work in the architect’s oeuvre, although the walled space does call to mind Johnson’s fondness for the enclosed medieval garden. As for the domed structure itself, there is nothing else like it in his work.
This property was built and maintained through the Robert Lee Blaffer foudnation and is open daily for free to the public.