April 20, 2007

A perfect church.

This church, located on the Dartmouth campus and built in 1771, struck me as a perfect architectural expression of Protestant religion.

DSC02298.JPG

The slightly ornate ceiling:

United Church of Christ church at Dartmouth

The elegant pews:

United Church of Christ church at Dartmouth

The subtly colored windows:

United Church of Christ church at Dartmouth

The basic things:

United Church of Christ church at Dartmouth

I love the simple hymn numbers. 230 is familiar:
All glory, laud, and honor,
to thee, Redeemer, King,
to whom the lips of children
made sweet hosannas ring.
United Church of Christ church at Dartmouth

When this church was "gathered" in 1771, it was Congregational. It's now United Church of Christ.

50 comments:

Galvanized said...

I love this post. :) So Americana, if that's the word I'm looking for.

al said...

I love walking through old churches. Excellent pics.

Freder Frederson said...

If you like that one, next time you are in D.C., go on over to Old Town Alexandria and have a look at Christ Church (Episcopalian) and The Old Presbyterian Meeting House (My Old Church).

vet66 said...

A lovely Church with strong pillars, high ceilings, hard pews, and clean lines.

Places like this always project a quiet presence within. They provide sustenance to the hungriest of souls who dare to humbly pass through the welcoming arms of the wide doors.

nick danger said...

I always thought the congregational church on - what was it - University and Regent? - was a great example of the form as well. And it has a really nice pipe organ.

Congregational churches are probably my favorite kind. I was always fascinated by how formally legalistic they are. Most have a written constitution, with by-laws, and criteria for membership, and specific procedures for democratic elections, boards, and procedural process. They are almost literally incorporated churches; their operation was distinctively non-divine.

But the UCC is too liberal activist for my tastes.

Chris said...

Isn't the UCC a group of Congregational churches?

nick danger said...

Yes, it's like a consortium of independent churches that share some common features.

Sort of like a franchised brand of churches, but each church is independently owned and operated.

Freder Frederson said...

Isn't the UCC a group of Congregational churches?

The UCC formed in the when the Congregationalists and a smaller protestant denomination merged in the fifties. They are of the Reformed tradition, which is the second protestant reformation of Knox and Calvin. Instead of trying to reform the Catholic Church, like Luther wanted to do, they split completely from it.

The UCC (which should never be confused with the Church of Christ) is probably the most liberal "mainstream" denomination. They ordain openly gay people and have no problem with gay marriage.

Freder Frederson said...

Yes, it's like a consortium of independent churches that share some common features.

No, its not. Its governance is similar to that of the Presbyterian Church. There is a central governing body that has a constitution and issues papers on doctrine and theology. But it is elected by the member churches, and nothing it does is considered divinely inspired, just the work of fallible people.

Paul Snively said...

Those who appreciate the highly decentralized political structure of Congregationalism as well as the aesthetics of this form of early Protestantism in America would likely appreciate Missouri-Synod Lutheranism and its churches to this very day: the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, continues to have a Congregational structure (a congregation can vote to dismiss its pastor or even to leave the Synod altogether, among other things; the Synod doesn't have a hierarchy of bishops and so on, even unlike other Lutheran Synods) and its churches share the general German-American Protestant architecture, tendency to house pipe organs, etc. that you find in the Congregational churches.

Maxine Weiss said...

Is "ornate" the same things as "ostentatious" ?

Peace, Maxine

Ann Althouse said...

The UCC? Don't ask me. I thought you guys had started talking about the Uniform Commercial Code.

nick danger said...

Thanks, Freder, that's a more accurate description.

On the aesthetics, I like it a lot. The downside to this style that I have observed, however, is that while it looks clean and elegantly simple when it is meticulously maintained, it quickly becomes dirty and shabby-looking when it is not.

Many similar-looking public buildings and schools were demolished because poor maintenance and ill-considered additions caused their original beauty to be lost and forgotten.

tjl said...

"a perfect architectural expression of Protestant religion."

Yes, the church is an accurate expression of the bleak, austere, uncompromising aesthetic of New England Puritanism. It's beautiful in a stark, abstract way, but not very heart-warming.

There's something to be said for its polar opposite, Baroque Catholicism, fully equipped with cherubs, madonnas, frescoes, fonts, and altarpieces, conveying the message that Heaven can be imagined as a sort of sensual overload.

Oran Woody said...

I am an architect and if I weren't so blasted masculine, I'd weep everytime I passed one of those "car dealership/house of worship" affairs that are springing up on every corner.
Old churches, old hymns and tradition seem to be as outdated as actually getting dressed up for church.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

Ann Althouse said...
The UCC? Don't ask me. I thought you guys had started talking about the Uniform Commercial Code.


Thank You Ann- I thought I was the only one who thought of the Commercial Code!

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
hdhouse said...

years and years back i toured with a renaissance ensemble and we did a 2 day workshop there and performed one evening in that chapel/church. i hadn't remembered it until i saw your pictures.

i'm only sorry that you didn't visit in the dead of winter. the snow crunching and the bright moonlight reflected through those simple windows....

it has beeen 35 years a least. did it still smell of clean, old wood and all? is it like that still? can you feel 2 centuries plus of worship?

Ann Althouse said...

hdhouse: There was a big restoration project about 5 years ago (described at one of the links). It was extremely clean and fresh. That is what impressed me. I have been in many musty old churches. This church combined oldness and pristineness in a way that seemed quite perfect to me, like exactly the sort of place you would want to sing a hymn, hear a crisply phrased sermon, say a few prayers, and baptize a couple babies.

XWL said...

Someone should do a Naughty By Nature song parody.

I won't mess with the rest, but the chorus would have to be,

You down with UCC(Yeah you know me) 3X
Who's down with UCC (Every last homie)
You down with UCC (Yeah you know me) 3X
Who's down with UCC (All the homies)

Freder Frederson said...

The greek revival facade is not from 1771. 1825-1860 is the usual provenance.

I doubt the building itself dates from 1771 (just the congregation) the architecture, both inside and out, is remarkably similar to the Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Alexandria, VA (as I mentioned above, I was a member of that church when I lived there). The Presbyterians are also of the Reformed tradition. The congregation there dates from 1772, although the building dates from 1837 (the original building burned down). They also have enclosed pews and an pipe organ that dates from 1849 (which they use a couple times a year--their primary organ is of much more recent vintage).

Omaha1 said...

I am just mildly shocked that the walls are painted pink (unless the pinkness is an artifact of the stained glass or the light). I thought most church interiors were white or beige.

Omaha1 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
reader_iam said...

These pictures are really lovely, Ann.

I thought that earlier viewing them on my laptop. But now I'm at a worksite where I have access to a high-quality display, and--oh, boy!

Thanks for sharing these with us.

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Internet Ronin said...

Beautiful pictures, Ann. Nice church. As you say,

This church combined oldness and pristineness in a way that seemed quite perfect to me, like exactly the sort of place you would want to sing a hymn, hear a crisply phrased sermon, say a few prayers, and baptize a couple babies.


Works for me.

Internet Ronin said...

BTW, anyone who is interested in more detail, can visit the church's website. Photos of the renovations carried out in 2004 are available there, as well as a view of the church in 1907.

(Once again, the comments by our resident architecture wizard, Sippican Cottage, were spot on. For example, the organ is new as of 2005, replacing one that had worn out.)

Internet Ronin said...

Oran Woody: I know what you mean! In a town not far from me, there is a modern church next-door to a modern library. If no for the signs, one could be forgiven for thinking he library was a church, and the church a library. (OK, I exaggerate - the church looks like a public school sans playground, but, if someone planted a cross in front of the library, there is no doubt in my mind that people would show up for Sunday services at that "new church down the street."

reader_iam said...

Internet Ronin: Your link currently take us to this post.

Bissage said...

[Insert new organ joke here.]

Maxine Weiss said...

The Mighty have fallen!

We all knew this day would come.

Althouse has been reduced to doing church reviews.

It was inevitable. In the words of Dylan Jones, editor of British GQ:

"Having been a reviewer, and having been forced, sometimes daily, to have an opinion about something, I realised that it's virtually impossible to have an interesting opinion about so much in life. What you do is invent one, or exaggerate what it is that you do feel."--Dylan Jones

Which is exactly what Althouse does, so says the Chatrooms, not me. The Chatrooms are saying this.

Peace, Maxine

Internet Ronin said...

CORRECT LINK FOR POST ABOVE:

United Church of Christ at Dartmouth.

(Thanks Reader_Iam!)

Ann Althouse said...

1. The interior walls of the church are indeed pink.

2. My opinions are not "invented," but I do often have to stop and will them into existence. They aren't piled up in here waiting to be unloaded. They are cooked up fresh. But not "invented."

Sissy Willis said...

He chastens and hastens his will to make known.

A beautiful place by the sea

Synova said...

The significance of the pipe organ shouldn't be neglected. Yes, it's big, but it could have been located in the back of the church instead of upfront and center almost like an altar.

After my father retired he started repairing and installing pipe organs. He has a job doing one now. It seems they're making a bit of a comeback, although it's possible to pick them up for next to nothing, still, from churches that just want the old thing gone so they don't have to worry about it anymore. Who needs that bother when you've got a piano and an electric keyboard?

As for "congregational". Getting too technical doesn't do most people much good if they aren't accustomed to what different forms of church government there are. Congregational, like "free" church, governments really are pretty much independent churches that are voluntarily affiliated with a central church body.

The denomination makes rules and if a church strays too widely they don't get to belong, but the individual churches can decide they don't want to belong without significant penalty. They call their own ministers and own their own property.

Not all churches do. I've known of congregations that wanted to switch to a different (in this case, Lutheran) denomination, and could not do so without losing their property, which they had paid for themselves. They still didn't own the deed.

And yes, free churches or congregational church governments are "bottom-up" democracies with very limited "top-down" control or authority. Coming *from* that tradition it's often shocking to go to a church where the pastor is a little king and the congregation seems to think that applying themselves to his vision is what God wants them to do.

*snort* As if Protestants didn't go through a lot to get rid of priests standing between them and God. But then, Israel demanded a King. I guess a lot of Protestants demand one as well.

Internet Ronin said...

Yes, the church is an accurate expression of the bleak, austere, uncompromising aesthetic of New England Puritanism. It's beautiful in a stark, abstract way, but not very heart-warming.

True, to a point. As no one else has mentioned it, one of main reasons for such austerity pre-dates Puritanism. The Calvinists and other Protestants took great exception to the excessive ornamentation of Roman Catholic churches and the massive expenditures required to build and maintain them. Thus, the simple churches. I believe that those who built this church would not have approved of the ornamentation that has been added over the centuries (such as the Greek Revival front).

Maxine Weiss said...

Althouse's opinions: Conjured up by dint of sheer will !

I'll pass that on to the Chatrooms.

Peace, Maxine

S.T. Steinberger said...

I'm not sure what to think about the church, post-renovation. The purpose of belonging to a church is for prayer, meditation, holiness, and community, so it really shouldn't matter if there is less decor in one church than in other churches. You may go to Guatemala, and the church may be a hut, but it still represents faith and a belief in God and Christianity, and a place of worship. However, Americans in general, tend to be rather showy in their choices, as they drive shiny new mercedes, suvs, saabs, vws, etc; buy expensive homes; own boats; buy the latest model of every gadget; dress in designer clothes, customize closets, buy framed art for the walls, install marble kitchens with Viking Appliances, and yet their choice in a church is simple. Is their choice in a church with a "simple style" a statement, of what they truly need in life - to get back to the basics and simplify? Don't mark my words here, but if the American value system is based on symbols - symbols of wealth, status, artistic quality, profession, opinions, choices, and they choose to attend a "simply-styled" church, there is something that seems to me to be a contradiction, in terms of values. I guess the style, architecture, decor, and art elements, differ amongst different faiths. This particular church, although, in fact, quite charming, would be completely out of place in southern Europe, which adorns its churchs with color, architecture, holy statues, colored windows at times in mosaics, preservation of original pews and holy water fonts, and its members have a strong belief that such design, is a part of the celebration of mass, containing its spritual purpose, and history, and its members seem to have a sense of worship given the ambiance of the church, as a special place in one's life. I have noticed that protestant churches are, in general, more simpified, not less valued, just completely different than churches of other faiths. I would just prefer to see more consistency in choices and values.

hdhouse said...

Ahhh Maxine,

When the collection plate is passed around and all present are expected, for the moment at least, to tithe a little goodwill and fellowship toward man, it behoves one not to keep pissing in the baptismal fount.

While we all admire a truly nice bit of photography and a fairly civil discussion, we seem to be interrupted by a dog barking. Now we all realize it is a dog and dogs bark but we do, or at least I do, wish that such whining and howling be taken away from the church grounds so we can simply enjoy the moment.

fetch? Maxine?

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
peter hoh said...

Yes, the church is an accurate expression of the bleak, austere, uncompromising aesthetic of New England Puritanism. It's beautiful in a stark, abstract way, but not very heart-warming.

Actually, it's the other way 'round for me. What you, tjl, see as "bleak, austere, and uncompromising" seems simple, direct, and uncluttered to me. This aesthetic connects me with my sense of the holy, and I find my spirit lifted up in churches such as this.

tjl said...

"This aesthetic connects me with my sense of the holy"

I didn't mean to suggest that the Puritan style of the Dartmouth church lacks a sacred aura. I grew up in Massachusetts and I know and love the New England architectural tradition.

My point is that the Puritan style doesn't satisfy all needs. A baroque church in Italy, Austria, or Mexico offers a different kind of transcendence that has a more sensual component.

hdhouse said...

doesn't one partly pick a church due to surroundings? and haven't the various denominations fairly settled on an architectural framework (or at least they had) that reflects the traditional surroundings?

I think that is what gives comfort to those who travel and attend services elsewhere. it is that sense of familiarity, not only with the prayer book and the hymnal but in the very physicality of the place. If you have been in this pictured church/chapel at Dartmouth you have been in 500 of them in New England and each feels the same.

I don't think it austere or sparse, I think of it as a blank slate that is colored by the congregation embracing and interacting with the message. It is very fitting for it to be on a campus where students can draw what strength they might from such a pretty space.

hdhouse said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
peter hoh said...

This has been an interesting comments thread. I've noticed a few recently in which certain regulars surprised me.

And others did not. Peace, my ass.

Christopher Drew said...

I'm a presbyterian seminarian, and I fondly recall my professor-of-all-things-worship-related referring to the giant organ, standing front and center, as "The Great God Org."

Other than the "idolatrous" organ, the church is beautiful, and is a pretty good representation of iconoclastic reformed church design (sans stained glass, banners, etc.) Thanks for posting these, Ann.

Kirby Olson said...

There must be a journal somewhere about church architecture.

I think originally the Congregationalists just meant that the Anglican hierarchy wouldn't set what went on in each church. Instead it was each congregation that would decide.

They were the established state church of Massachusetts until about 1850. Taxes supported them.

Many of those churches started to go Unitarian about 1850.

There's a nice academic book by Peter S. Field called The Crisis of the Standing Order (U Mass Press) about this changeover. He mentions that people used to pay a renter's fee to own a pew for a year at a time, and it was a lot: more than a grand in some cases. It kept the poor out or forced them to stand in the back.

Nice pictures. It makes me wonder about the history of the place, and how it's changed.

Theo Boehm said...

While this style of New England church is not completely to my Roman Catholic taste, I agree with hdhouse's excellent observations above.

As hdhouse notes, there are many similar churches all over New England, although the Dartmouth example is particularly lovely.  My wife has spent time there and agrees it is a special place.

I am sitting right now less than 500 feet away from this church.  Here's the interior.  It was designed by Charles Bulfinch, but completed in 1816 from a kit!

Bedford, the little town between Lexington and Concord, was never very prosperous, and building a new, large church for the new Unitarians was expensive, so this was a way to get the most for their money, or so they thought.  Amateur construction caused this church to have structural problems from the beginning, and it's now supported by a steel frame.

We might expect an austere interior, and the clock, at first blush seems to spoil that effect.  The curved walls and window frames, however, soften the feeling considerably, giving a sense of warm envelopment, an interesting counterpoint to the Dartmouth example.

Also, the the walls are not white, only the trim.  These are examples of original, non-white colors used on many early New England buildings.  White lead pigment for oil paints was expensive, and Yankees were nothing if not thrifty.  Ochre for pigment was mined locally in several places in New England, including Bedford, so various shades of yellow and brown derived from ochre were popular before the industrial production of pigments in the 19th century.  In this case, white was reserved for the trim.  As Sippican points out upthread, painting any old building white is not necessarily authentic.  White came more into use in the Federal period, but yellows and browns made locally continued well into the 19th century.

To correct Kirby Olson, the Protestant religion was established in Massachusetts until 1833, not 1850.  The Unitarians also began to displace the Congregationalists in the late 18th and early 19th century, again, not the 1850's.   In town after town in Massachusetts, as in this example from Bedford, the "First Parish" will be either Unitarian or Congregationalist, with the split occurring sometime around 1800.  King's Chapel in Boston, as an early example, essentially became Unitarian by 1785.

How we got from Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God to Unitarianism in 40-odd years is a fascinating subject, but one for another post.

Scott said...

The details you like, especially the organ and the ceiling coffers, are actually very moderne. The church shows Classical architecture under the influence of Art Deco, since it was built in 1935 to designs by Hobart Upjohn with Wells, Hudson & Granger, Architects.

The congregation was "gathered" in 1771, but it met in other buildings before it built this one. It built a church on the Green around 1794, which burned in 1931, creating the need for this building up the street.

Scott said...

(The city-skyline organ enclosure is admittedly recent, but it looks from the '30s, which might have been a goal of its designers.)