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Christianity, its divisions, shades and shadows

It probably goes without saying here, but interest in a particular subset if Christian church architecture goes beyond fascination, well into the range of compulsion. And it may also be redundant to confess how odd this is, due to my own religiosity: coming from a Congregationalist background (thanks to my mother) and having a passing connection with Rome, I am currently among the unchurched — a significantly growing segment of the American population. Does that disqualify me? I often wonder.

During the Bush II administration it struck me as almost unbelievably obtuse that W’s pentagon had absolutely no understanding of the nuances of Islam. The fundamental differences between Sunni and Shi’ite Moslems accounts for much of the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, yet our military think tank — given their removal of Saddam Hussein and failure to grasp why we weren’t welcomed as heroes — failed to understand that fundamental reality. Islam is, indeed a complex and nuanced religion, as witnessed by this chart:

But this diagram is child’s play compared to the major, minor, and minuscule subdivisions of Christianity: If ye think it consists fundamentally of Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox, think again. One source the number as 30,000 distinct Christian groups, some of them as few as one hundred believers.

I only mention this for two reasons: 1) it’s really very interesting, and 2) it faces me almost every time I encounter a community with five Lutheran churches in a half-mile radius or three Presbyterian facilities. Consider the community of Indiana, Pennsylvania (population 13,975 in 1910), which has two fine A-A churches within fifty feet of one another on the same city block. Count me confused.

Both of these churches are sophisticated examples of the Gothic Revival at the beginning of the 20th century. But it isn’t always so harmonious. I’ll enjoy delving into the reasons for two Presbyterian churches in Danville, Illinois, one an exceptional example of the Romanesque Revival (though not really Richardsonian) and the other a remarkable battlemented box with crenellations, towers and other Medieval features that would seem to have little direct connection with spirituality — unless you agree with Martin Luther that “a mighty fortress is our God.”

The newer and smaller of the pair has become a community theatre space, a natural outgrowth of the turn-of-the-century’s preoccupation with acoustics. My personal preference may favor one, but both are historically interesting.


Christian Church, Marion, IL

Marion was a popular name for towns across the Midwest: there is one in Indiana, Illinois and Iowa. The Christian church in Marion, IL is compact, efficient, non-traditional and city-centered, possibly dating from the 1910s. The front elevation could easily be mistaken for an armory. I show it here in an RPPC and a colored lithographic view.

Just for grins, here is the armory in Nevada, Missouri. Except for the medieval-esque crenelations, they are remarkably similar.

The doesn’t seem to be a web presence for the current congregation, nor are there any interior views. But the window configuration on the side elevation bespeaks an interesting interior organization which wouldn’t prohibit A-A status.

Presbyterian Church, York, NE

Methodist Episcopal Church, Beijing, China

Two architects prominent in the A-A phenomenon are credited with designs for foreign locations: G. W. Kramer and W. H. Hayes. I’ve not yet found any certified Kramer examples but Hayes’s design for Beijing is reasonably well documented.

Chongwenmen (also Chong Wen Men) Methodist church predates the Boxer Rebellion, though varying dates are given. After the rebellion, the church was rebuilt in 1904, with unspecified changes. One internet site in China considerable information — though I can’t read a word of it. Happily exterior and interior photographs of the renovated and still heavily used building abound:

The Chinese government has designated this as an historic building and presumably receives some protection from the urban pressures of a huge city like Beijing.

Congregational Church (again), Appleton, WI

The Congregational church (now UCC) in Appleton, WI is gone but remains an important example of the Akron-Auditorium phenomenon, if for no other reason that its architect Warren Howard Hayes. From his relocated office in Minneapolis — he came from upstate New York — Hayes designed churches in many states, nearly all of the A-A in style and function, before his death in 1899 at the age of fifty-two. I’ve written here before about his Appleton church but it comes to mind again as I’m searching for other examples. Consider the varieties of representation offered us:

Here is its image from the American Architect & Building News of 18 February 1888 and another hand-colored at a later date (for the interior decoration market). The colorant probably never inspected the church firsthand, nor investigated on-line; they simply chose to make the roof blue-ish and the masonry in terracotta red and yellow. Now consider the image I published before, a tinted card produced hundreds, if not thousands, of miles from Appleton. At least they have taken fewer liberties with striking color contrasts.

Now look at three more views and imagine the vast differences in perception presented by printing methods and the photographer’s vantage point:

Under normal, more casual circumstances, we might imagine these to be three different buildings, though perhaps by the same architect. If nothing else, this causes me to think more carefully when I write about buildings that are gone or which I’ve never visited.

Christian Church, Lancaster, MO

This has appeared once before, as part of a group of three churches in Missouri. But its unusual enough to warrant further investigation.

Oddly, google.maps locates the church more than a mile east of Lancaster, near a crossroads convenience store, but that site is vacant. Perhaps intended for a new facility. The building shown here is on Washington (U.S. Highway 1360 between Marion and Linn. What appears here to be symmetry is, in fact, slightly off balance; the left side is narrower than the right.

Baptist Church, Wilburton, OK

Progress seems to have bypassed the tiny town of Wilburton in southeaster Oklahoma; it is much too close to Hartshorne to have competed. Indeed, if it had many commercial or institutional buildings, they are gone.