Greening My Religion

The light of the solar system powers one of the Pope's houses. (Photo: Pixelci/Shutterstock)

Houses of worship aren’t going to be a regular topic of conversation on this blog and the only higher power I’ll reference is the big mamma herself, Mother Earth, but I’ve come across a couple of unlikely (and heavenly) news items that merge faith and the modern science of green building.

Vatican City -- not the kind of place you’d expect progressive sustainable building techniques (to be frank, progressive anything) -- has given Nervi Hall, the structure where popes hold general audiences in poor weather -- a green makeover. The hall’s new $1.6 million roof is outfitted with 2,400 photovoltaic solar panels expected to produce an estimated 300 megawatt hours of energy a year. This is enough to power, heat, and light the hall with any leftover energy being distributed to the Vatican’s main power grid. The roof went “live” earlier this month and is expected to help cut Vatican City’s carbon emissions by 225 pounds annually.

A group of Benedictine nuns in England also have green building on the brain. Their project, an environmentally sound monastery, is less grandiose than the papal one but just as impressive. The nuns’ current home, Stanbrook Abbey in Worcestershire, is a sprawling, antiquated, energy-guzzling space that interferes with their monastic lifestyle. So what’s an eco-minded vestal to do? Get thee to a green nunnery, apparently. The sisters are preparing to relocate to a new convent in North York Moors National Park (above) that’s been built with recycled materials and sustainably sourced timber. The convent, designed by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios with direct input from the nuns, will feature rainwater harvesting, solar panels, sedum roofs, reedbed sewage systems, and a woodchip boiler.

Gill Smith of Feilden Clegg Bradley tells The Guardian about the joys of working with a group of cloistered, habit-wearing environmentalists: "These clients are naturally parsimonious, they're not into buying and consuming like we are and they have a great respect for the natural environment. It's been a privilege working with them. They're so charming and they're quite good fun."

All I have to say: Amen, sisters.

Via [Reuters] and [The Guardian]