• The Evolution of a Working Church’s Trans-Atlantic Symbolism

    Edward Nilsson (see profile)
    Item Type:
    Conference paper
    Conf. Title:
    Vernacular Architecture Forum
    Conf. Org.:
    Vernacular Architecture Forum
    Conf. Loc.:
    Conf. Date:
    May 22, 2021
    Permanent URL:
    In 1714 a nine-square grid Anglican church with groin-vault and triple-gable roof was built in Marblehead, Massachusetts, a colony dominated by Puritan and Congregational hegemony (Fig.1). Founded by Sir Francis Nicholson (1655-1728), British military officer and colonial governor, and twenty-nine British sea captains, historian Stuart Feld described St. Michael’s Church as a “simplified memory image conveyed by a person familiar with … several of the smaller parish churches Christopher Wren [and Robert Hooke] rebuilt at the foot of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London after the Great Fire of 1666”. To Nicholson and the visiting sea captains, this wood-framed interpretation of its masonry antecedents across the Atlantic may have reinforced the collective memory of their spiritual homeland. The London parish churches, in turn, can trace similar features to earlier 17th century examples of Dutch classicism based on a groin-vaulted Greek cross within a square plan, reflecting the simplicity of the ancient primitive churches. During its 300-year history, significant changes were made to St. Michael’s. What features have been retained or meant to evoke the original design? And how has the church evolved with new modes of worship, architectural sensibility “tastes”, and means of construction, yet still manage to provide a strong sense of colonial history and original design?
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