Art History



Degree Name

Master of Arts in Art History (M.A.)

Type of Paper/Work

Qualifying paper


Victoria Young

Second Advisor

Craig Eliason

Third Advisor

Heather M. Shirey


The sacred and the profane have been distinctly carved since Mircea Eliade, Romanian philosopher and religious historian, first described them in his seminal
work, The Sacred and the Profane, often cited in the study of sacred space. But as we
face an increasingly secular identity in our western post-structuralist world, the
borders of the sacred are evolving both in study and in practice. Using Catholic
Charities’ Dorothy Day Place, a cutting-edge design for sheltering those experiencing
homelessness in downtown Saint Paul, Minnesota, I demonstrate how these new
buildings provide a re-considered view of the sacred. To do this, I focus on a
definition of sacred space developed by Michael J. Sheridan, social work scholar and
practitioner, who has posited that the sacred emerges when conjoining spirituality,
a social justice framework and socially conscious architecture. Incorporating this
definition, I examine how the architect’s use of socially conscious design coupled
with Catholic Charities’ unique program model serves to create sacred space and
also reflects historical legacies of the sacred found in churches and monasteries. I
first articulate Catholic Charities’ three-tiered system of housing that allows
individuals to ascend through floors that offer increasing responsibility,
independence, and privacy when paired with professional supportive services. I
then focus on architectural design elements which enhance the model to embrace
the sacred including, among others, the use of light for both wellness, guidance, and
symbolism; a circulation system that fosters efficiency while allowing for a balance
of safety and security; the configuration of living space to accommodate privacy and
unique health challenges yet can still allow for gathering and connecting; and a
recognition that the site location situated between the sacred and the profane in the
downtown core needed to respectfully consider and reflect its urban neighbors
while showing itself as a beacon to the most vulnerable of its citizens.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.