No. 1 April 2001
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early churches in New Jersey
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Holy Leisure: Recreation and Religion in God's Square Mile
Zion on the Hudson: Dutch New York and New Jersey in the Age of Revivals
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of the month
The Beginnings of Gothic Revival in New Jersey
Two fascinating churches were built in 1845, both Episcopal. One marks
the end of a tradition, the other a beginning; neither church is well
known, except to architectural historians, but both deserve to be. In
this month's feature, we'll look at both churches, and at a few of their
predecessors and successors.
Saint Peter's in Clarksboro is
a traditional Wren-Gibbs church; a wooden frame structure, with a square
tower projecting from the front of the building, three large windows on
each side, a simple belfry and steeple. The rectangular building has a
Greek pediment and pilasters at the corners. A large wooden sign just
below the belfry proclaims 1771, the year of its founding. It is the last
Episcopal church built in the idiom of the mid-Atlantic region.
The Chapel of the Holy Innocents, in Burlington,
was built in the same year. It is a school chapel, rather than a parish
church, but that fact is irrelevant to the enormous difference in style.
It has a transept, which means that its plan is a cruciform rather than
the rectangular design of most of the eighteenth and nineteenth century
churches in the state. A cruciform plan
would have been considered too Popish in a region dominated by reformed
churches. Holy Innocents has very narrow Gothic windows, not designed
to let much light into the interior, and a steeply pitched roof. Moreover,
it is built of uncoursed stone, not unusual, of course, but it is not
a rude or unsophisticated building--quite the contrary; the nature of
the construction was obviously an integral part of the design. Holy Innocents
marks the beginning of the English Gothic Revival tradition in this country.
The line of demarcation is rarely so clear,
nor the causes so evident, as they are in this shift in architectural
style in Episcopal churches. In 1841, the Right Reverend George Washington
Doane, Bishop of New Jersey, returned from an extended tour of cathedrals
and parish churches in England, frequently under the guidance of a member
of the Ecclesiology movement centered in Cambridge University, which was
frankly dedicated to "influencing church architecture in the colonies."
Doane came back with plans and ideas, and soon engaged William Notman
to design a chapel for Saint Mary's School in Burlington. Notman had previously
designed a Gothic-style church in Glassboro, Saint Thomas's, but in this
case he was instructed to follow a specific English model for portions
of the chapel, and he had access to measured drawings of that church.
During construction of Holy Innocents,
Doane engaged Richard Upjohn, who had already produced Trinity Church
in New York City, to design a cathedral church for Burlington.The
result is Saint Mary's Church, completed in 1854, one of the loveliest
and most influential churches in the country, again patterned after a
specific fourteenth century English church, measured drawings of which
had been supplied by the Ecclesiology movement, albeit the Oxford University
wing (Ecclesiological politics were very complex then.).
The architectural aspects of the movement
were based, in part, on liturgical reasons, in part on a reaction to the
dominant Greek Revival architecture of the time, and, significantly, on
"a desire for more formal richness and visual opulence" in the
churches, which they felt could best be expressed by a return to the English
Gothic style of the fourteenth century. To realize the significance of
the change, let us look at several Episcopal churches built immediately
prior to Holy Innocents, then at several constructed shortly afterwards.
1843, Saint Paul's Church, in Rahway, was built. Its style is early Gothic,
but it's clearly a Wren-Gibbs plan, with a similar projecting tower to
the Clarksboro church, and modestly elaborated belfry. There are two large
Gothic windows on the front, and four more along each side, making for
a well-lighted interior. The church is not dissimilar to that which might
have been built by a Presbyterian or Dutch Reformed congregation of the
The Gothic was not the only acceptable
style for Episcopal churches during this era, for in 1836, a congregation
in Piscataway-town built a Greek Revival church,
with Gothic windows front and side, but a shallow pitched roof characteristic
of Greek Revival.
A year earlier,
in 1835, a Middletown congregation erected a small, wood frame building,
that except for the Gothic windows and door, might pass for a country
schoolhouse. The belfry is not appreciably different from Rahway's.
In 1832, the proprietor of a major ironworks
in Allaire had an Episcopal church built for his employees. It is a meetinghouse
style church, but with an unusual rear placement of the steeple and cupola,
which are similar to that found on Reformed and Presbyterian churches
dating back fifty years.
These five churches, Allaire, Piscataway-town, Middletown, Rahway and
Clarksboro, are representative of the diversity in styles that was common
throughout the state prior to 1845 for all but the Quaker meetinghouses.
But that changes with the completion of Holy Innocents.
forward from 1845. In 1846, a church was erected in Philadelphia based
on plans furnished by the Ecclesiologists, Saint James the Less, that
was to have a profound influence on Episcopal parish churches throughout
the state and the nation. It had a steeply-pitched roof, buttresses, narrow
Gothic windows, a distinct chancel and a bellcote, but not yet the transept
that will become a fixture in Episcopal churches.
In 1848, an Episcopal congregation
in Trenton erected a church (Saint Paul's) that is remarkably similar
to Notman's building in Glassboro. There are narrow Gothic windows, buttresses
at the corners, a steeply pitched roof, and roughly cut, but not unsophisticated,
stone construction. Still, no transept.
But in 1850, a small church in Matawan,
designed by Upjohn, pulls everything that is to characterize the English
Gothic Revival, together: transept and chancel, narrow Gothic windows,
bellcote rather than
belfry, exaggerated buttresses and an entrance vestibule on the south
side. In 1856, a congregation in Woodbury built a church similar to Saint
James the Less: a steep pitch to the roof, an articulated entrance, bellcote,
transept, narrow Gothic windows. It also incorporates an elaborate ironwork
door, which was less noticeable on earlier churches, and nonexistent on
those built prior to 1845. A Woodbridge congregation built a similar building
in 1860; like Matawan,
it is of brick, but we see the bellcote, articulated entrance placed on
the South side, transept, and the chancel facing east. The roof is steeply
pitched and the Gothic windows are small, resulting in a dark interior.
the Episcopal parish churches built during the remainder of the century
employed virtually all of those elements. Even some that had been recently
completed (by, say, 1855) soon were renovated to add a chancel and transept,
as well as internal alterations to the pulpit, choir and altar. The diversity
of styles that was common prior to 1845 had now become a uniform commitment
to the fourteenth century English Gothic style for Episcopal churches.
Greek Revival was dead in most of the state as an ecclesiastical style
by 1850, and the Gothic Revival had spread to mainline Protestant congregations.
Most of those did not adopt the deep chancel, the crossing or the bellcote,
and many stayed with large windows to provide well-lighted interiors,
at least until the craze for stained glass windows even for simple country
churches swept the country. In
time, the Romanesque displaced the exclusive reliance on Gothic elements,
the Gothic Episcopal church, because of the influence and affluence of
its members, marked the real end of regional styles in New Jersey.