Friday, April 8, 2016

Trinity Church - "The Work of a Civilization" (Boston #7/Pillars of the Earth #2)

"This isn't just the work of an architect.  This is the work of a civilization." -- David McCullough, Pulitzer prize winning author, on Trinity Church 

Exterior Detail - Trinity Church - Photo by Jim Schmidt
There are hundreds of places of worship in Boston - some of them have importance in the role they played in American history: Old North, for example (a blog post coming soon!); also, the Charles Street Meeting House and African Meeting House, which are important sites on the Black Heritage Trail in Boston.

Another important church in Boston is Trinity Church - famous for its attachment to a well-known preacher, a well-known architect, and for its status as a famous building in and of itself. Indeed, in 1885, architects voted Trinity the most important building in America.  Over a hundred years later, the American Institute of Architects still ranks Trinity Church among the Top 10 - the only building (and only church) that remains from the original list. It was featured as #2 in a series on "Ten Buildings That Changed America."

I had the pleasure of visiting Trinity Church in August 2015.

If you have a four or five minutes, I highly recommend the short but superb video from PBS/WTTW that produced the "Ten Buildings" series mentioned above - it's a great introduction to the building, the architect (H. H. Richardson), and to Trinity's famed preacher (Phillips Brooks):

Reflection in John Hancock - Jim Schmidt
The church sits on Copley Square in Boston's Back Bay, across the square from the famous Boston Public Library and flanked by the John Hancock Tower.  The square is a busy place and visitors can view the impressive church from the outside - and its magnificent stonework and statuary - for free.  A fee ($7.00) is charged for visiting the inside of the church and some of the text below is from the "Self-Guided Tour" booklet that they provide.

For me, the outside was mesmerizing with its Old-World stone-carvings and  its "muscular" appearance.

Trinity Church is the birthplace of the "Richardsonian Romanesque" architectural style, after Henry Hobson Richardson.  From the guide:

Richardson was the first American architect to attract international attention.  Trinity Church is the building that established his international reputation, and is considered his first major work..."Richardsonian Romanesque" is characterized by a clay tile roof, polychromy (use of several colors in an architectural decoration), rough-faced stone, heavy, rounded arches and a massive tower, all prominently featured at Trinity Church.  Copied throughout America for the rest of the century, it was also the first American style to be widely imitated in Europe and Canada.  Despite its origins in an ecclesiastical building, the Richardsonian Romanesque style soon became popular for use in structures serving all aspects of modern life, including railroad stations, libraries, and public utility buildings.

Photo by Jim Schmidt
Richardson's buildings (the church and parish house) are the third home for Trinity Church.  The current buildings were constructed under the leadership of Trinity Church's Rector, Phillips Brooks, one of the most renowned preachers of the 19th century.  Inspired by their charismatic preacher, and responding to changes that were quickly transforming their formal residential neighborhood into a commercial center, in 1870 the parish voted to move from downtown Boston to the newly developing Back Bay and awarded Richardson the commission to design a bold new church.

You can learn more about the invitation to Richardson and his first sketches of the search in an excellent post (here) from the blog at Harvard University's Houghton Library.

Trinity Church - Boston - photo by Jim Schmidt
Trinity Church - c. 1900 - Library of Congress

Exterior Detail - Trinity Church - Photo by Jim Schmidt
Exterior Detail - Trinity Church - Photo by Jim Schmidt

Exterior Detail - Trinity Church - Photo by Jim Schmidt

Exterior Detail - Trinity Church - Photo by Jim Schmidt

Exterior Detail - Porch - Trinity Church - Photo by Jim Schmidt

Exterior Detail - Door - Trinity Church - Photo by Jim Schmidt
You can't visit Trinity Church without running into Phillips Brooks - his visage is on the pulpit, a bust in the church, carving in the stone, and a statue outside.  From the guide:

Phillips Brooks (1835-1893) was one of the best known and most charismatic preachers of his generation, and served as Trinity's Rector from 1869-1891.  Brooks vision of an intellectual honesty in Christianity continues to influence the Episcopal Church today.  He is listed in the Anglican Church's Calendar of Commemorations with other Americans including Martin Luther King, Jr., and joining such luminaries as St. Paul, St. Peter, St. Claire and John Donne as examples of Christian living to inspire contemporary Christians.

Exterior Detail - Phillips Brooks - Trinity Church - Photo by Jim Schmidt

Phillips Brooks
A statue of Phillips Brooks by Augustus Saint-Gaudens on the grounds of Trinity Church.  Gaudens also crafted the memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts, featured ina  previous blog post (here).

Phillips Brooks Statue - Trinity Church - Photo by Jim Schmidt

Phillips Brooks Statue - Trinity Church - Photo by Jim Schmidt

The inside has minimal artificial lighting and produces a fittingly solemn and quiet setting, even with the number of people touring the site. 

Murals - from the guide:

The interior decoration of Trinity Church was one of the most ambitious commissions in America, both in scale and scope, aiming to integrate art and architecture into a unified whole.  The murals were executed solely by American artists - over 21,500 square feet of painted decoration enrich Trinity's interior.

The Pulpit - from the guide:

The pulpit was designed by Charles Coolidge, executed by John Evans, 1916.  Figures include St. Paul, St. Chrysostom, Martin Luther, Hugh Latimer, and Phillips Brooks.

The Windows - adapted from the guide:

Trinity's magnificent stained glass collection is one of the finest in the nation, with examples from most of the American and European stained glass studios of the nineteenth century,  With one exception, the church contained only clear glass windows at its consecration in 1877.  Twenty-four followed within five years; eight more followed soon after.

You may also like these other posts on this blog:

Other Posts About Boston:
Boston #1 - Poe Statue
Boston #2 - Robert Gould Shaw/54th Massachusetts Monument
Boston #3 - The Boston Massacre and the Old State House
Boston #4 - King's Chapel Burying Ground
Boston #5 - Granary Burying Ground
Boston #6 - Gravestone Iconography in Boston's Historic Burying Grounds

Other Posts About Historic Churches:

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