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Trinity Church, Boston

Foundations of America

QU201 Prof. Scott Leone

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Trinity Church, Boston

Trinity Church Boston

First Trinity ChurchIn the winter of 1877, the Trinity Church that stands today in beautiful Copley Square in Boston was opened for worship. It was 149 years prior to that however, when the history of Trinity Church began. In 1728, the people of the King’s Church which was the first Episcopal Church in New England decided a third Episcopal church was needed in Boston. Six years later the building was constructed and the cornerstone was laid by Reverend Roger Prince of King’s Chapel. On August 15th 1735 the wooden Trinity Church opened for worship. In 1828 the wooden Trinity Church was taken down and in September of that year a second church was constructed designed in a Gothic nature. The new church was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1872 which spread across 65 acres, burned down 776 buildings and caused $73.5 million in damages. Around the same time as the Great Fire of 1872, Rector Phillips Brooks was working on building a new Trinity Church in Boston’s Back Bay in Copley Square and in the meantime the parish community worshiped in Huntington Hall.

Phillips Brooks

Phillips Brooks was one of America’s greatest preachers in the 19th century according to most. He was vibrant, determined and charismatic. He was known for his worked supporting the abolitionist movement and wanted former slaves the right to vote. He went to Boston Latin School and Harvard University where the Phillips Brooks House was named after him. He was ordained an Episcopal Priest in 1860 and was the Rector of the Church of Advent in Philadelphia for seven years. He then became Rector of the new Trinity Church that was his idea. His work on the Trinity Church and growing popularity then granted him the position of Episcopal bishop of Massachusetts in 1891. Brooks, after careful consideration and much deliberation chose Henry Hobson Richardson to design the new church in 1872.

All of the designs for the Trinity Church prior to Richardson’s were of the popular Victorian Gothic style but Richardson’s French inspired Romanesque won the Brooks and the Vestry over. Phillip Brooks loved Richardson’s design because it broke away from traditional hierarchical Episcopal design and instead was designed for the growing democratic and contemporary American church practices. Richardson designed a floor plan with a Greek inspired cross. The tower was low and wide and centrally located. Phillips loved tthis idea because it truly embodied his goals as a rector. He wanted a place where the congregation could be united and every parishioner was heard and created one united to spread the word of God. Phillips Brooks was the major contributor to the Trinity Church and it was his vision that inspired Richardson’s design. A statue of Phillips Brooks is located in the left exterior of the church that was sculpted by Augustus Saint-Gaudens in 1910.Phillips Brooks Statue

Henry Hobson Richardson was born in 1838 on the Priestly Planation in Louisiana and was the great-grandson of Joseph Priestly the discoverer of oxygen. H.H. Richardson went to Harvard University in 1855 and decided to become an architect. Since there were not any architect schools in America before the civil war, he went to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris for two years. The civil war at home in the south caused the family income to decrease and H.H could no longer attend school. He then worked for a French architect in Paris for another two years before coming back to Boston where he was married and got his first job constructing the Church of Unity in Springfield Massachusetts. He moved to Staten Island with his family and worked in New York City for eight years. It was at this time he was chosen by Rector Phillips Brooks to draft the third Trinity Church building of Boston. H.H Richardson's Romanesque revival design for the church would later help him receive national recognition. At the time of Richardson’s design of the church, granite quarries began opening everywhere by different companies. One of these quarries opened in 1887 by two contractors from Worcester Massachusetts, called the Norcross Brothers. James and Orlando Norcross were from Maine and moved to Worcester with their family in 1868 where they began the Norcross Brothers Contractors and Builders Company. James’s role in the company was office manager while Orlando was in charge of the construction processes. The brothers became very successful and constructed buildings all over the country and bought quarries in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and Georgia. The Norcross brothers developed a close relationship with Henry Hobson Richardson and Richardson wanted their granite in the Trinity Church.

H.H Richardson

Granite was chosen for the material of the building because of its strength and red sandstone was chosen for the trim. The Norcross brothers, who owned granite quarries all over the northeast decided to use Westerly granite from Rhode Island. The estimated cost for the church ranged from $355,000 to $640,000. The Vestry was very upset with this cost and stopped all of the work. Richardson revised his plan and the Norcross Brothers reduced their price to $435,000. The Vestry was happy with this bid and a contract was signed. There were a few obstacles with the actual construction of the church as well because the Boston Back Bay area was marshland. The granite was very heavy and in order to support the building a ninety feet square area was reserved for the building that was filled with wooden piles and concrete. Next, there were four granite pyramids support the piers. These structures are still supporting the church today and to keep the wooden piles from rotting the water levels are always closely monitored.

In November 1876 construction was completed. Artist John La Farge was chosen to paint the sanctuary. He also added multiple stained glass windows starting in 1883 using a new technique of layering opalescent glass. Edward Burne-Jones also added two stained glass pieces in 1882 called The Worship of the Shepherds and David’s Charge to Solomon. These windows were said to have been inspirations to Phillips Brooks when he preached to his congregation. In the days leading up to February 9, 1877 the day of consecration, La Farge and his assistants worked through the night adding finishing touches. In attendance on consecration day were the Bishops of the Diocese of Massachusetts, clergymen for other denominations, H.H Richardson, the Norcross Brothers, John La Farge, Alexander Rice the Governor of MassachGovernor of Massachusetts, Frederick Prince the Mayor of Boston and all of the people involved in building the Trinity Church. At the consecration the dean of Theological School at Cambridge read the Gospel, the Rector of Christ Church offered the prayers, the Rector of Emmanuel Church preached the sermon and the Bishops of Central Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts conducted the Communion Service.

Although the Trinity Church is a main attraction for tourists visiting Boston and a stop on the famous Boston Duck Tours it is still an active Episcopal church. The Reverend is Anne Bonnyman, weekday services are held three times a week from September through June and four services are offered on Sundays. The parish is also dedicated to service in the community and provides Christian education for all ages. Many high level choirs began at the Trinity Church including Trinity Choir, Trinity Schola, Trinity Choristers, and Trinity Chamber Choir. The choirs are part of a major Boston Tradition called the Candlelight Carols which draws 5,000 attendees each December. Both H.H Richardson and John La Farge became very well-known and successful because of the Trinity Church and Richardson’s Romanesque style became very popular all over the country. Richardson died nine years later in 1886 but his Romanesque style had a major impact on American architecture.

Inside of Trinity

Richardson and the Norcross Brothers went on to construct thirty-three more buildings together and developed a great partnership. Richardsonian Romanesque as it became known truly embodied the democratic American spirit. Many town halls, railroad stations, courthouses, and libraries all over the nation were seen with clay roofs, polychromy, rough stone, heavy arches, and massive towers characteristic of the Richardsonian Romanesque style.   Trinity Church is the only church in America and building in Boston that has been named “Ten Most Significant Buildings in the United States” by the American Institute of Architects. The building was also voted the most important building in the United States by architects and it was named a National Historic Landmark in 1970.Trinity Church was the start of many new movements in American history and lives up to its honored name of most important building in the United States. The church is a symbol for everything this country stands for. Not only was a new style of architecture born that became a staple in American architecture but a new way of worshiping evolved that embodied the democratic and unified American way. Although the Trinity Church itself was not made with Stony Creek granite, the Norcross Brothers who built the building owned Stony Creek granite quarries. The Trinity Church was still a part of the granite movement in which granite was becoming the preferred building material because of its strength and beauty.Trinity Church of Boston


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DeFord, Deborah. Flesh and Stone: Stony Creek and the Age of Granite. Stony Creek, CT: Stony Creek Granite Workers Celebration/Leete's Island, 2000. Print.





















Last Updated on Sunday, 30 October 2011 16:58  


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