December 16: Ralph Adams Cram, Richard Upjohn, and John LaFarge, Architects, 1942, 1878, Artist, 1910

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About this commemoration

Ralph Adams Cram and Richard Upjohn were major architects whose influence on the design and decoration of Episcopal churches in the late 19th and early 20th centuries is without equal.

Cram was born on this day in 1863 in New Hampshire. After an apprenticeship in Boston, Cram established his own firmin1890 that specialized in designing churches. Heavily influenced by Anglo-Catholic principles, Cram was a leading proponent for an“American gothic revival”—buildings that were reminiscent of the ritual and structural dominance of the medieval period. Because ofhis many commissions for chapels and other buildings on college and university campuses, Cram is also remembered as the originator of the “collegiate gothic” style. Among his works is the great gothic nave of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York City.

Richard Upjohn was born in England in 1802 where he trained as a cabinetmaker. He immigrated to the United States in 1829 and eventually took up residence in Boston where he worked as a draftsman, art teacher, and eventually an architect. His first major commission was for a gothic-style building for St. John’s Episcopal Church in Bangor, Maine, a building that was later destroyed by fire. He was commissioned in 1839 to design and supervise the construction of anew building for the Parish of Trinity Church, Wall Street, New York City. It was completed in 1846 and continues as Upjohn’s most well known accomplishment. Upjohn is also remembered for his sketchbooks of small wood-frame designs for churches in rural towns and villages. These designs were widely copied and adapted. As a result, Upjohn was among the early progenitors of “carpenter gothic.”

John Lafarge was born in 1835 in New York City and was a devout Roman Catholic. As an artist, LaFarge worked in a variety of media but is most often remembered for the murals that decorate Trinity Church, Boston, and the Church of the Ascension, New York City, among others. He also made significant contributions to ecclesiastical decoration in stained glass.

Collects

I Gracious God, we offer thanks for the vision of Ralph Adams Cram, John LaFarge and Richard Upjohn, whose harmonious revival of the Gothic enriched our churches with a sacramental understanding of reality in the face of secular materialism; and we pray that we may honor thy gifts of the beauty of holiness given through them, for the glory of Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

II Gracious God, we thank you for the vision of Ralph Adams Cram, John LaFarge and Richard Upjohn, whose harmonious revival of the Gothic enriched our churches with a sacramental understanding of reality in the face of secular materialism; and we pray that we may honor your gifts of the beauty of holiness given through them, for the glory of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Lessons

2 Chronicles 6:12–20

Ephesians 2:17–22

Matthew 7:24–29

Psalm 118:19–29

Preface for the Dedication of a Church

Text from Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

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We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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12 Responses to December 16: Ralph Adams Cram, Richard Upjohn, and John LaFarge, Architects, 1942, 1878, Artist, 1910

  1. John LaVoe says:

    (“whose harmonious revival of the Gothic enriched our churches”)
    Something less specific might be more natural in the collect, such as…
    “whose gifts of art and architecture enriched our churches”

    “and eventually took up residence in Boston where he worked as a draftsman, art teacher, and eventually an architect.” There are one too many “eventuallys” in this sentence.

    (“most often remembered for the murals that decorate Trinity Church, Boston, and the Church of the Ascension, New York City, among others.”)
    I think in this wording (in the last paragraph) you should eliminate two words either at the beginning (“most often”) or at the end (“among others”). They don’t work well together.

  2. Fred Rose says:

    How great that we commemorate three very significant figures who have contributed immensely to all American ecclesial and collegiate treasures! Their contributions have helped create an aesthetic sense of the sacred and drawn many to a glimpse of God, worshipping in the beauty of holiness.

  3. Michael Hartney says:

    Title. A comma is missing between the years of their deaths (Though I prefer a semi-colon to separate each of them.)

    I have the same question regarding these men that I had for ‘Bach, Handel and Purcell’ and ‘Merbecke, Byrd, and Tallis’. Why are we singling out these three men above all others? Is there a particular devotion to them somewhere in The Episcopal Church? Yes, they designed many of our buildings – and windows – but is that worthy of commemoration in HWHM?

    Collect: The phrases: harmonious revival, sacramental understanding, and secular materialism are quite a mouthful for a prayerful collect.

    Readings. Yes, they are all about foundations and buildings – but it all seems a bit contrived and a bit ‘over the top.’

    Bio. Lafarge needs a ‘who he is’ and ‘why he is important statement. All need ‘He died in …’ statements.
    2nd paragraph: Can we give the identity of the place in New Hampshire where Cram was born?
    3rd paragraph: Can we give the identify of the place in England where Upjohn was born?

  4. Chris Drelich says:

    “Whose harmonious revival of the Gothic…” in the collect seems odd. I would say “whose harmonious revival of Gothic architecture…”

    What about Henry Vaughan? I consider him among these three as an important contributor. He did a lot of interior decorative work in churches in the early 20th century, along with his architectural contributions.

  5. Suzanne Sauter says:

    I find the brief biographies very confusing. I cannot tell if the names are given in order of importance, but certainly they are not given in historical order. The Gothic Revival or Neo-Gothic architectural movement started in England in the mid 18th century. The Gothic Revival movement had reached the United States by the 1830s, before any of the men named contributed to the style. The Neo-Gothic style was already well established by the time Richard Upjohn designed Trinity Church, Wall Street, in the late 1830s. In fact, many homes and cottages were built in the style from about 1840-1860.

    Richard Upjohn’s plans for Trinity Church (1839-1846) seems to have been especially influential in popularizing Neo-Gothic when it came to church architecture, not only in cities but tiny towns. Yet, the style was already beginning to appear for Episcopal Churches. In the tiny community of Hope, Warren Co., NJ., there stands St. Luke’s Episcopal Church built about 1832 in the Gothic Revival style by an English immigrant. Richard Upjohn’s popularized style would continue to influence Episcopal church design well into the 20th century.

    The publication of Upjohn’s rural architecture: Designs, working drawings and specifications for a wooden church, and other rural structures in 1852 would influence small Episcopal church design for 150 years as well. Richard Upjohn’s designs for wooden “Carpenter Gothic” churches can still be seen in church buildings in many communities today.

    [As an aside, Richard Upjohn was one of the founders of the American Institute of Architects and its first president. He was succeeded by Thomas U. White, better known as the architect of the U.S. Capitol dome and many Greek Revival style buildings. Yet it is from White’s workshop in Philadelphia that the plans for the Gothic style Old Chapel at Chapel of the Cross, Chapel Hill, NC came. The Old Chapel was built in the mid 1840s.]

    As far as I can tell, Richard Adams Cram was practicing in an architectural style that was old-fashioned by the time he was active. I wonder if he would even be mentioned if it were not for his conversion experience to Anglo-Catholicism in 1887 and his acceptance of the commission for St. John the Divine, New York, in 1911. Most people probably recognize his style from Princeton University where he was supervising architect for about 20 years to 1927 as “Collegiate Gothic.” Southern Episcopalians would probably recognize his All Saints Chapel at the University of the South, Sewanee. Mr. Cram also worked in more modern styles but is less well known for this.

    I had never heard of John LaFarge until reading three sentences about him, even though he did make stained glass windows for the Biltmore Estate, Ashville, NC. Not being familiar with his work, I am at a loss to know why his contributions to work in stained glass were so important.

    In short, I do not understand why these three men would be chosen for special commemoration. Certainly the beauty of our worship spaces might will be diminished without their contributions. But is this enough?

  6. Grace Burson says:

    I am amused by the fact that I said this collect at Morning Prayer while standing in a chapel whose outside was designed by Upjohn and its inside by Cram, attached to a sanctuary designed by Upjohn, and I am now posting this comment from an office in the parish hall designed by, you guessed it, Cram.

    A couple places where the collect was clunky for me – I think the word “style” should be added after “Gothic” – just refer to “the Gothic” sounds mannered and weird. Also, the phrase about “secular materialism” seems snippy and unnecessary.

  7. Philip Wainwright says:

    I’m a fan of 18th century ecclesiastical architecture, so I find myself provoked by all this, and can’t say ‘amen’ to the collect. I think their architectural style is fine for those whose tastes run in a medieval direction, but don’t care for the implication that it’s more sacramental and less materialistic than other styles. I personally find the gloomy intricacies of gothic buildings crushing to my simple spirit, but I believe that’s just a personal reaction, and does not justify condemnation of or a sense of superiority over those who feel differently, and certainly shouldn’t be expressed in a prayer in which others are expected to join.

  8. Steve Lusk says:

    If these guys had designed churches in Romanesque, Christopher Wren, colonial, or contemporary styles, instead of proper Gothic ones, would they still be in HWHM? And do all other styles of church architecture really reflect “secular materialism” rather than holiness?
    Other opinions are possible: “[T]he Gothic revival arrested the development of Prayer Book inspired architecture. . . . The Gothic ideal . . . tried to make every parish church a monastic cathedral, with useless transepts, perilous numbers of steps, and the altar buried in a deep chancel as far away from the people as it could possibly be placed–with divided choir stalls and rood screens even further restricting the contact between the people and the altar. . . . The fault of the Gothic Revival did not lie in its being Gothic, but in its being a revival. For as the Church is a living organism, so it can never go backward in its expression without doing violence to its contemporary situation.” (Architecture and the Church, An official publication of the Joint Commission on Architecture and the Allied Arts, quoted by Michael Nesbitt, 1954)

  9. Nigel Renton says:

    Do architects qualify as “Holy Persons”? Is this too much here about Manhattan and Boston? If it’s about cathedrals, should (say) Washington National Cathedral or even Grace Cathedral’s architects be considered? Did the writer realize that Cram was hired to supervise Frohman’s work in Washington, but was fired for insisting on too may design changes? Do we still think that Gothic revival is the ideal standard of church design? LaFarge was a muralist: what is he doing with two architects? Glorifying Big Buildings seems out of step with HWHM.

    Here we have one more choice from the 19th/early 20th century era. Enough, already! And why choose someone whose style imitated earlier Gothic architects?

    My recommendation is therefore to eliminate this commemoration. As an Honorary Member of both the Oakland chapter and the California Council of the American Institute of Architects, I’m certainly not “anti-architect”, however.

    *************************************************************

    Why is Cram listed first? Is it because he is considered more important? I believe that in a combined commemoration, the persons should be listed in order of their entrance into the Church Triumphant.

    Why choose Cram’s birthdate for this commemoration? It could “double up” with Philander Chase (9/22) if you need a date linked to Cram.

    Line 1, second paragraph: substitute “at Hampton Falls” for “in”.

    Line 2, second paragraph: move “in 1890” to follow “Boston,”.

    Line 3, second paragraph: substitute “, specializing” for “that specialized”.

    Line 1, third paragraph: insert “on January 22, 1802, at Shaftesbury,” after “born”.

    Line1, third paragraph: substitute a comma for “in 1802”. The clause beginning “where he worked” should immediately follow the place name.

    Line 2, third paragraph: substitute “emigrated” for “immigrated”.(Here again we have the confusion between “emigrating” and “immigrating”. Upjohn lived in England until he emigrated. When he arrived, he immigrated.)

    Line 4 third paragraph; add “as” after “eventually”. The start of a new clause and the adverb interrupt the series of words following the earlier “as”, and repeating that word makes for smoother prose.

    Line 1, fifth paragraph: substitute “on March 3i,” for the first “in”.

    Line 1, fifth paragraph: capitalize the “F” in “LaFarge”.

  10. Cole Gruberth says:

    “whose harmonious revival of the Gothic enriched our churches with a sacramental understanding of reality in the face of secular materialism;”

    That collect will mean precisely nothing to anyone outside the most rarefied academic circles. How many of us have joint degrees in architectural history, theology, and sociology?

  11. Paul Grous says:

    More on the Chapel that Ralph Adams Cram built, which was deeded over to St. Elizabeth’s.

    Chapel History – http://st-elizabeths.org/history-chapel.shtml
    Chapel Video – http://st-elizabeths.org/chapel.shtml

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