No. 9 December 2001
you identify this church?
photo of the month
to use this site
of the month
one's roots is no less fascinating in intellectual or artistic history
as in genealogy, although the records one examines are of a different
order. Where did this idea, be it a musical
tradition, philosophical orientation, scientific inquiry, or style of
architecture, first show up and how did it spread? What are its central
themes and variations? In an earlier issue we looked at the rise of Gothic
Revival in American religious architecture, and this month we'll revisit
that period, focusing on one of the most important churches in the country,
one just across the river in Philadelphia.
a leader in the Episcopal church in this country asked friends in the
Cambridge Camden Society to help him obtain plans for a simple church
ecclesiological taste, which might be used as a pattern for small, impecunious
parishes that were springing up in the US. He was sent plans and drawings
of St. Michael's, in Long Stanton, Cambridgeshire, built about 1230, and
those designs were used in the construction of St. James the Less, located
near Laurel Hill cemetery in Philadelphia. Although American architect
William Notman is occasionally credited with the design, probably because
he had a hand in design of the cemetery, the actual drawings were probably
prepared by one G.G. Place and revised by William Butterfield, the official
designer for the Camden Society.
James was going up, architect Richard Upjohn was building St. Mary's church
across the river in Burlington. Certainly he visited St. James several
times, for there is a remarkable change in his style
that dates to that period. "The parish churches that emerged from
Upjohn's office after 1847 provide ample evidence that he knew St James
the Less. The proportions and the relationships between the parts of a
building and the feeling for materials in his work change abruptly in
1847 and 1848." And it was Upjohn, who designed several churches
in this state, who was largely responsible for the popularity of Gothic
Revival for smaller churches.
Christ Church, in Elizabeth (often cited as one of the finest Gothic Revival churches in the country, but now torn down) was designed and built by Upjohn in 1853; its front bears unmistakable resemblance to St. James. Woodbury's Christ Church, erected in 1856 in Salem county, also bears a strong resemblance to St. James, as does a German Lutheran church in Camden, built in 1857.
Trinity Church, Woodbridge, organized c 1698, erected this building in 1860 after the second one burned. Tradition has it that Richard Upjohn designed the church, although the architect on the site was Harrison Condit of Newark. The interior bears few marks of Upjohn's style, but the plan and exterior are certainly similar. Upjohn often made his plans available for a modest fee, or none, which may then have been revised and carried out by local architect/builders.
In 1867, a Presbyterian congregation in Stockton (Hunterdon) erected this stone building that owes much to Upjohn, and more than a decade later, two Catholic churches, one in Bound Brook (Somerset) and another in Boonton (Morris), erected churches that owe a similar debt. There are dozens of churches across the county whose lineage can be traced back through Upjohn to St. James and ultimately to St. Michael's, including another I just learned about in Toronto that was built in 1858 by an important Canadian architect from plans supplied by the Cambridge Camden Society.
The important aspect of St. James, according to knowledgeable critics, is not simply the general design, but the feeling for the materials and the articulation of ornament and scale. The careful and expensive reproduction of a medieval model represented by St. James established the authority of English parish church styles. Let us therefore be grateful for Less.