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Religion, Art, and MoneyEpiscopalians and American Culture from the Civil War to the Great Depression$

Peter W. Williams

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781469626970

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469626970.001.0001

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The Great American Cathedrals

The Great American Cathedrals

(p.80) Chapter Three The Great American Cathedrals
Religion, Art, and Money

Peter W. Williams

University of North Carolina Press

Abstract and Keywords

The establishment of Episcopal cathedrals began gradually to take shape in the decades following the Civil War, bolstered both by the rise of Anglo-Catholicism and by a growing denominational impetus toward administrative centralization and a corresponding increase in the importance of the office of bishop. Although there was no national mandate for cathedral churches, many dioceses proceeded to create them, although not in any uniform fashion. The cathedral was an instrument for church unity, providing a center around which the various factions of the Christian community could rally, and helping to liberate the church to participate in civic and political affairs without hindering its own growth. The cathedral was also a rebuke to contemporary American materialism; it was potentially an institution that could serve as a counterweight to the commercial and practical emphases of contemporary American education. The various rhetorics used to promote the cathedral enterprise among Americans in general and Episcopalians in particular reflected the ambiguities involved in reviving the architectural expression of an era remote in time and culture as an expression of the values of Americans in the Progressive Era.

Keywords:   Cathedral, William Lawrence, St. John the Divine, Ralph Adams Cram, Henry Codman Potter

The word “cathedral” suggests a very large church, such as the late Robert Schuller’s famed “Crystal Cathedral” in Anaheim, California. Schuller’s erstwhile domain, however, was not originally a cathedral in any but a metaphorical sense, since it did not belong to a denomination with bishops as part of its governance. (This changed in 2010 when Schuller’s heirs were forced into bankruptcy and sold the plant to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange.) An authentic cathedral is not necessarily a very big church; many Episcopal cathedrals in the United States are no larger than an average parish church, which is what many of them originally were. A bona fide cathedral is a bishop’s church, one where that dignitary’s emblem of office, the chair (Greek καθέδρα‎, Latin cathedra), permanently stands as a symbol of episcopal authority. Cathedrals are located in cities designated as sees (from the Latin sedes, “seat”), in which the bishop resides and which are usually the most prominent in their respective dioceses. (Dioceses in the United States are areas—usually a state or section of a state—in which a bishop exercises ecclesiastical authority.)

In Europe, cathedrals had for centuries symbolized the power of the institutional church—Roman, Anglican, or Lutheran—in a given region, which enjoyed establishment status and exercised authority in conjunction, or sometimes in competition, with the secular government. The Gothic cathedrals erected over periods of decades or even centuries in late medieval England, France, and other countries represented vast investments of wealth and artistic talent and stood as the premier symbols of the social, cultural, and religious orders of their day. Henry Adams’s Mont-St.-Michel and Chartres, first published in 1904, portrayed Chartres Cathedral, built near Paris in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, as a sublime incarnation of the power exerted by the Virgin Mary over the France of its time. It stood for Adams in stark contrast with the impersonal force of the “dynamo,” which he saw as the most fitting embodiment of the culture of the twentieth-century United States.

Although cathedrals have continued as a feature of the Church of England from medieval times through the Reformation era to the present day, the establishment (p.81) of the Protestant Episcopal Church as an independent Anglican body in the newly formed United States in 1789 by no means automatically implied the simultaneous appearance of this venerable institution. The first suggestion that a cathedral in the American church might be desirable appears to have arisen from John Henry Hobart, the first bishop of New York. Hobart mentioned the possibility of such a structure, perhaps in Washington Square, to former New York mayor Philip Hone in 1828 after an inspiring trip to Britain.1 Although the cathedral idea meshed well with Hobart’s High Church ecclesiology, the idea was shelved until the era of the Civil War. James Lloyd Breck, missionary to the upper Midwest and cofounder of Wisconsin’s Nashotah House, a seminary for the training of priests in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, revived the idea in Minnesota during the 1850s on the grounds that a cathedral would “ennoble society.”2 Working with Breck, Henry Whipple, the bishop of Minnesota, dedicated the Cathedral of Our Merciful Savior in Faribault in 1869. Although there have been several other claimants to the title, Minnesota’s seems to have been the first proper Episcopal cathedral in the United States—appropriately in the heart of the “Biretta Belt,” that enclave of Anglo-Catholicism in the upper Midwest.

The establishment of Episcopal cathedrals began gradually to take shape in the decades following the Civil War, bolstered both by the rise of Anglo-Catholicism and by a growing denominational impetus toward administrative centralization and a corresponding increase in the importance of the office of bishop. Although there was no national mandate for cathedral churches—in the early twenty-first century there are still some dioceses that lack them—many dioceses proceeded to create them, although not in any uniform fashion. One common pattern was the designation of an already-extant parish church in the premier city of the diocese as having cathedral status. This usually came about through Episcopal vision and initiative.


In Boston, the cathedral was the result of an unexpected opportunity. The successor to Phillips Brooks as bishop of Massachusetts was William Lawrence, the descendant of two of Boston’s wealthiest families, the Appletons and the Lawrences. In his autobiography, Lawrence recalls his concern at the end of the nineteenth century that “each parish and mission was a unit in itself; and while the people recognized the Bishop as the head, they were, to a large degree, Congregationalists.”3 He did not find adequate precedent (p.82) for a cathedral as a means of symbolizing diocesan unity in either England, where most cathedrals had been built on monastic foundations, or in those that already existed in the United States, which were either bases for missionary bishops or parish churches where bishops had been invited to store their miters (assuming they wore them—Low Church bishops trended to shun such manifestations of what they regarded as “popish” affectation).4

While in 1898 Lawrence was pondering the question he had posed for himself—“Would it be possible to found in this country a real American cathedral?”—he was informed that a wealthy donor had an interest in making a substantial bequest to the diocese for just that purpose. Four years later, that donor—Miss Mary Sophia Walker, with her sister Harriet Sarah Walker—left a bequest of over a million dollars to the diocese for a cathedral. The Misses Walker—“very modest and retiring women of pure New England blood and type,” according to Lawrence—had been raised as Congregationalists, but had been led to the Episcopal Church by their pastor in Waltham as well as by Lawrence’s charismatic predecessor, Phillips Brooks. The bulk of their wealth was in the form of the Governor Gore estate in Waltham, an inheritance from their uncle. “Had I been a follower of Anglican Episcopal tradition of pre-Trollope days,” Lawrence mused, “I might have driven in coach and four from the door of the Bishop’s palace in Waltham to the Cathedral of St. Botolph, whose tower standing upon the Cambridge bank of the Charles was reflected from the calm surface of the water.”5 (“Boston” is a contraction of “St. Botolph’s Town.”)

Lawrence readily dismissed the aristocratic pretensions that he saw implicit in the commissioning of a grand new structure, and instead opted—as many of his counterparts had done or would do—for the retrofitting of an already extant parish church. The choice was presumably not difficult. His Appleton grandfather had been among the founders of St. Paul’s Church, which in Lawrence’s day was conveniently situated at the population center of the diocese in downtown Boston. (It sits near “Brimstone Corner,” named after nearby revivalist-oriented Park Street Church, a short walk from the hub of the city’s public transportation system at Park Street.) St. Paul’s had been built in 1819 in the Greek revival mode, and has always been the only Episcopal cathedral of that style. It had originally been conceived as the first truly American Episcopal church in Boston, since Christ (Old North) and Trinity had been founded in colonial times. Even at this early date, however, St. Paul’s followed a practice of historical memory that would be continued in many (p.83) subsequent cathedrals by incorporating stones from three resonant sites: its namesake, St. Paul’s Cathedral in London; its city’s namesake, St. Botolph’s church in Boston, England; and Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, which richly evoked the founding of the American nation. St. Paul’s was thus something of a microcosm, incorporating itself physically as well as associating itself symbolically with significant elements of the political and religious cosmos in which it was situated.6

Like many bishops who were drawn into the business of cathedral building, Lawrence felt the need to articulate the reasons that justified such a potentially costly undertaking, even though in this case all that was involved was the modification of an already extant structure. Though from an enormously wealthy family, he played the role of the frugal Yankee, reluctant to deprive parish churches of resources.7 In explaining the cathedral’s purpose, he employed a biblical phrase, “a house of prayer for all people” (Isaiah 56:7), that would be similarly invoked by many other Episcopal cathedral builders. Most urban dwellers of his age, Lawrence argued, were unchurched, and a downtown cathedral would serve as a mission center for them:

The millions of dollars that go into the structure of cathedrals lay upon the Church heavy responsibility so to use them as to give back returns in character, public spirit, and glad sacrifice. While we are constructing great fanes in our city—the tens of thousands of poor and helpless, the anarchists, the Bolshevists, and radicals—have before them fruits which they have a right to expect from great churches in the pure and unselfish character of clergy and worshipers.8

Although it is not recorded what reception was given the cathedral by Boston’s anarchists and Bolshevists, Lawrence did implement some reforms to remove the deterrents to lower-class attendance that still existed at many Episcopal churches. He was quite emphatic in declaring that his was “now a free and open cathedral,” and proceeded to have the doors removed from the building’s pews, thus signaling that the purchase or rental of pews that had barred the poor from attending Episcopal services in many places was a thing of the past. This appears to have been effective, as Lawrence speaks of the cathedral holding four or five services daily to accommodate popular demand, as well as staging hymn-sings, led by the choir from the steps, in which crowds, which flooded onto the street and across onto the common on Sunday and holiday evenings, enthusiastically participated.9

(p.84) Philadelphia

In the case of Philadelphia, ambitious plans for a cathedral were in the air early in the twentieth century. Bishop Philip Mercer Rhinelander espoused a vision similar to that of Boston’s Lawrence in which the functional independence of individual parishes—the de facto Congregationalism that Lawrence had identified—might be subordinated to a more unified diocesan identity symbolized by a cathedral, one in keeping with the broader theme of administrative centralization in the American society of the day. In 1918, Rhinelander launched his cathedral project and received an enthusiastic response from his elite constituency, who viewed the enterprise as a matter of civic as much as religious import. Women from families with major holdings in Curtis Publishing, the Drexel Bank, and the Pennsylvania Railroad were active in the Cathedral League, and Senator George Wharton Pepper composed a pamphlet boosting the enterprise. A vast Gothic structure that would be part of a complex including a bishop’s house, deanery, and other facilities was to be built on a tract in Upper Roxborough and would constitute “a permanent center of diocesan life” near the geographic center of the diocese. Construction did not begin until 1932, after economic circumstances had changed dramatically, and the project was abandoned in the 1960s, with only the deanery and Lady Chapel completed. The diocese of Pennsylvania never did get its cathedral.10

The cathedrals in Boston and other cities such as Detroit were sizeable structures that served prosperous and well-populated dioceses at a time when wealthy parishioners were at hand to foot the hefty bills. In a few key cities, however, even grander plans were being launched to erect cathedrals on an even more monumental scale. These would be accompanied by a panoply of outlying structures that would emulate the functions that cathedrals had provided under the Church of England, a paradigm that was increasingly becoming the model for Anglophiliac Americans.11 Such cathedrals would simultaneously take on the roles of centers of diocesan programming, administration, and outreach; symbols of both episcopal and Episcopal presence; museums of liturgical arts; microcosms celebrating the story of God’s church, the history of the nation and region, and the glories of human achievement; and various other things besides. Three such cathedrals launched during this age of ecclesiastical magnificence were Manhattan’s St. John the Divine; the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.; and San Francisco’s Grace.

(p.85) New York

The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights was the first of these cathedrals to be launched and remains to this day, as its nickname indicates, “St. John the Unfinished.” As noted earlier, Bishop John Henry Hobart was the first of New York’s bishops to propose a cathedral in 1828, but anti-English sentiment lingering from the War of 1812 stood in the way of its gaining significant support.12 After the Civil War, prosperity, civic pride, growing Anglophilia, and the implicit challenge presented by St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic cathedral worked in favor of both the Episcopal Church and a cathedral project. Bishop Horatio Potter revived the notion, only to be thwarted by the Panic of 1873 and the financial hard times that ensued.13

The beginnings of St. John the Divine as an actual project rather than simply an idea were the work of Potter’s nephew and successor, Henry Codman Potter. In 1887, the younger Potter issued a call addressed “To the Citizens of New York,” appealing to the moral instincts and civic pride of all of that city’s inhabitants to join in a campaign to build a cathedral “worthy of a great city.”14 This was the era in which New York and other American cities were engaged in a burst of civic boosterism and vied with one another to acquire the institutional amenities—public libraries, art and natural history museums, symphony halls, monumental government buildings, railroad stations—that would demonstrate to the world that the United States could hold its own with the great cities of Europe as centers not only of commerce but of culture. New York’s newspaper editorials enthusiastically supported Potter’s call. One of the first major contributions to the campaign—one hundred thousand dollars—came from Presbyterian business magnate D. Willis James, who saw the cathedral as potentially “a permanent power for good to the nation through its entire history.”15 Less enthusiastic was the local Roman Catholic press, which perhaps not surprisingly felt that the project was an elitist venture that slighted their own community’s cathedral as a civic monument.16

A suitable three-square-block site was found for the new cathedral on land that had belonged to an orphanage on the edges of a plateau near the north end of Central Park, an area in which residential neighborhood development was rapidly taking place. In 1889 a design competition was declared that drew sixty-eight submissions, but immediately aroused controversy over the secrecy that surrounded it. (Henry Yates Satterlee, then rector of Calvary Church (p.86) and later the chief promoter of the National Cathedral after he became bishop of Washington, was one of the protesters.) Two years later the plans of the four finalists were revealed, none of which drew more than a tepid response from architectural critics. Eventually the firm of Heins and LaFarge, both of the principals of which were Roman Catholics, was selected as the winner for their hybrid Byzantine-Romanesque-Gothic design, over the protests of Bishop Potter himself.17 The plan, characterized by the New York Times as “a compromise cathedral,” was inspired in part by the Hagia Sophia mosque in Istanbul. Their design was characterized by a central plan in which most of the congregational seating would be not in the nave but rather under an enormous central dome, similar to Boston’s Trinity Church. At the insistence of the trustees, it was modified to include more elements of what for Episcopalians was becoming the normative English Gothic, and the alignment shifted from north-south to east-west, in keeping with ecclesiastical tradition but interfering with the goal of having the cathedral’s façade and towers help to shape the Manhattan skyline. Not, perhaps, the most auspicious of beginnings.18

The building of St. John’s lurched on, with architects and trustees quarreling over such issues as the use of newly available poured concrete (rejected) and George Heins’s death in 1907. The first building campaign was for the completion of the choir and crossing, which would serve as worship space while other parts of the cathedral were being erected. One innovation intended as temporary, but which became a permanent feature after its significance was fully realized, was the construction of a roof over the crossing by Spanish architect Rafael Guastavino, who had invented a low-cost system of tile vaulting that was at once elegant, durable, and acoustically resonant.19 In 1911, the apse, choir, crossing, and two of the apsidal chapels were completed. At this point, the trustees fired Christopher LaFarge and instead engaged Ralph Adams Cram. Cram’s hiring, before LaFarge had been notified of his dismissal, was another in a string of public relations blunders that characterized the early years of St. John’s.20

Cram had actually admired the Heins and LaFarge scheme and wanted to collaborate with LaFarge after the death of Heins, although the trustees vetoed this notion.21 He saw the already realized portion as both a challenge and opportunity to break free of the English Gothic tradition with which Anglophiliac American Episcopalians were enamored, and to turn to French and Spanish precedents as well.22 His first task, however, was not the cathedral itself, but rather the outbuildings that were planned for the (p.87)

The Great American Cathedrals

Ralph Adams Cram et al., The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, New York City, 1892–.

(Courtesy of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine Archives)

ample grounds on its outskirts. These included St. Faith’s House, a school for deaconesses established in 1890 by William Reed Huntington and already executed by LaFarge; Synod House, Cram’s first project on the grounds, rendered in French Gothic, which had been donated by J. P. Morgan and railroad magnate William Bayard Cutting as a meeting hall for the Episcopal Church’s General Convention in 1913; a choir school designed by the firm of Cook and Welch in English Collegiate Gothic; and Cathedral House, which contained the bishop’s residence and deanery, and which Cram modeled on a French chateau. Cram also drew up a plan for the whole complex, which he conceived of as a medieval “walled town,” “enclosed and set apart from the secular city without.”23 For better or worse, this scheme was never realized.

After the completion of these projects in 1913, construction largely halted until work began in 1924 on the octagonal baptistery, the gift of August Van Horn Stuyvesant and his sisters—the last lineal descendants of Dutch governor Peter Stuyvesant—in memory of their parents. The structure included in its iconographical scheme coats of arms of the Stuyvesants and other Dutch (p.88) families, as well as statues of major figures in the history of the Netherlands, New Amsterdam, and New York. (Synod House had similarly included a statue of George Washington between its two main doors, as well as thirty-six smaller figures representing the work of men and women in the arts, sciences, and industry.)24

The cathedral, however, could not be financed entirely through such targeted gifts of munificent patrons.25 In 1925, Bishop William Manning launched a major fund-raising campaign, kicked off by Franklin Delano Roosevelt at Madison Square Garden. Though this campaign was not as successful as hoped, it permitted construction to resume on the nave and west front.26 Two years later construction began on the north, or “Women’s” transept, so named because its funding came entirely from donations from women. A donation of a half-million dollars from Baptist philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. was cheerfully accepted by Manning, but the episode led to misunderstanding and resentment after Manning refused to implement his benefactor’s request for representation of non-Episcopalians on the cathedral’s board of trustees. Rockefeller, seeing that his aim at a truly interdenominational church for the city was not to be realized in St. John’s (despite Manning’s characterization of it as “a shrine of prayer and worship for all people”), instead launched his own project, Riverside Church, very close to the cathedral in Morningside Heights.27

In addition to its financial and architectural dimensions, St. John the Divine should be understood in terms of the rhetoric it generated as its episcopal sponsors attempted to explain its rationale and justify its existence, not only to Episcopalians but to the urban public at large, to whom they repeatedly appealed for financial support. Not surprisingly, Henry Codman Potter was particularly diligent in this regard. Potter developed two rhetorical strategies, one for fellow churchmen and the other for a broader audience that included non-Episcopalians. The first strategy was presented fully in a sermon, “The Cathedral and Its Uses,” preached in 1888 at the dedication of All Saints’ Cathedral in Albany.28 In this discourse, Potter contrasted the situation of cathedrals in England, where the great monuments of medieval building had come under fire by critics arguing that they had become irrelevant to contemporary challenges such as social welfare and evangelization, with that of those in the United States, where they stood at the forefront of efforts of the Episcopal Church to establish a presence in thinly populated areas.29

After quoting at length from other bishops on the need for cathedrals to support evangelization, Potter went on to list and expound systematically (p.89) four contributions that the cathedral could make to the contemporary life of the Episcopal Church. First, it could serve “as an elevated type and example of the Church’s worship.” He maintained that worship in the Church of England is conducted to a far greater degree with “that noble combination of dignity and simplicity” than in the American church. A major barrier to American liturgical excellence was the decentralization of religious culture that prevailed in dioceses without a strong Episcopal presence, without the example of which “it is still in many places pretentious, obtrusive, and bad.” Cathedrals, on the other hand, promoted a style of worship and music that was free from the eccentricity and individualism that prevailed in parishes lacking compelling examples of contemporary best practices.30

Second, the cathedral could serve as “a distributing centre [sic] of diocesan work.” Potter here cites two problems facing the Episcopal Church in his day. First, parish clergy were too preoccupied by their parochial responsibilities to be available for the task of evangelization. Secondly, charitable work was seriously hampered by the duplication of effort and waste of resources that resulted from a multiplicity of pet agencies with local sponsorship. Centralization of welfare efforts at a cathedral could thus result in economies of scale that would make charitable contributions far more effective.31

Third, the cathedral could serve as “a school and home for the prophets.” Potter contrasted the importance, even the primacy, of the prophetic office not only in the Hebrew Bible but in the early Christian Church as well, with its subordination to and confusion with the priestly domain that prevailed in the church of his own day. Exactly what distinguished the prophetic office from that of others is left a bit vague, although he did state that the church needs to be “a voice of warning, of authority, of instruction to a perverse and evil generation”—presumably an adumbration of the values of the Social Gospel that he frequently championed.32

Finally, the cathedral was also “the home and center of the work of the bishop.” Potter at once echoed the lament of his Massachusetts counterpart, William Lawrence, that the contemporary Episcopal Church was de facto more congregational than episcopal in polity, and also assuaged any American fears that a strong bishop is necessarily despotic. Diocesan and national canons placed strict limitations on episcopal power, and contemporary bishops actively sought out advice and cooperation from a variety of clergy in their dioceses. Once a bishop had the appropriate resources—symbolized by and centralized in a cathedral—he could draw on the cathedral chapter as

(p.90) the cabinet of the bishop, to be made up of preachers, missionaries, rectors, canons, and scholars, each one of whom shall have a double tie, first to the Cathedral, and then to some mission field, to some outlying cure, to some organized parish, to some college, or school, or seminary. … This I maintain is the lost ideal of the Episcopate, whereby his office and his seat become of paramount importance to the whole diocese, as expressing and impressing his influence, as binding together the active life of the diocese not only in one polity but in one policy, as the centre of institutions which surround the Cathedral and grow out of it.”33

Potter was, in this discourse, articulating in detail the emergent rationale in the Episcopal Church, based on appeal to historical precedents, for a church that was at once American in its stress on efficient centralized administration and a polity based on checks and balances, but also Anglican in its setting off an empowered and effectual hierarchy against a laity whose influence had from colonial days frequently approached that of their Congregationalist counterparts. Such arguments, however, would presumably be of little interest to the broader public on whom he and his successors were to rely for extensive financial support. To the end of reaching this broader public, Potter published a number of articles in general-interest periodicals aimed at an educated readership in which he tried to make the case for the cathedral as a significant player in the life of the broader community.

In “An American Cathedral,” which appeared in the May 1898 edition of Munsey’s Magazine, Potter first made a cultural argument, namely, that religious design in America had never progressed beyond what he regarded as a rather primitive state. Part of the problem lay in the nation’s Reformed heritage. Puritans, Huguenots, Quakers, and others “were weary and impatient of a conception of religion which made it to consist largely in costly and splendid ceremonial, and in a pampered and indolent hierarchy.” The result was “a certain stern impatience of the decorative in architecture.”34 Another problem lay with collective cultural priorities. Domestic architecture had made aesthetic strides, in part due to increasing wealth, while commercial buildings, which originally had been simply ugly, were now both ugly and huge. Apartment houses and hotels were particular offenders, the opulence of which seduced their residents “to extravagance, and to wanton and reckless living.”35 Here Potter was mounting a critique of the aesthetic of conspicuous consumption that characterized the “Gilded Age,” a lifestyle notably embraced by many of his wealthy constituents.

(p.91) While Americans lavished money, if not taste, on their residences and emporia, Potter maintained that they were simply too busy to care for the appearance of their churches, which they were not entirely sure really needed to be beautiful. “The popular conception [of a church] consists mainly of a huge auditorium, with a platform and a more or less dramatic performer, and a congregational parlor, and a parish kitchen.”36 Here again Potter was identifying the ethos of Congregationalism, to which he attributed many of the nation’s cultural and religious shortcomings, as a model to which Anglicanism offered a necessary counterweight. Puritan austerity had, in his view, generated a “debonair indifferentism” in the culture at large, which he saw as corrosive of the basic human instinct of worship and, ultimately, of the survival of religion itself in an increasingly secularized culture. The antidote, of course, was a cathedral on the Anglican model:

The cathedral, instead of being an anachronism, is a long neglected witness we may sorely need. … The greatest ages of the world, the greatest nations of the world, have not been those that built only for their own comfort and amusement; and it is simply inevitable that a great idea meanly housed, and meanly expressed in those forms in which we express reverence for our heroes and love for our dead, and loyalty to our country—in which, in a word, we express toward our best and greatest among our fellow men, or toward human institutions, veneration and affection and patriotism—it is inevitable, I say, that a great idea meanly treated will come to be meanly esteemed.37

Americans, who in Potter’s view did not collectively possess five churches worthy of respect among them, needed “visible institutions … representing honesty and integrity and faith” as much as they needed electric railways and protective tariffs. The solution, not surprisingly, was at hand. Potter began to describe the progress that had already been made on St. John’s, located on a “site of preeminent dignity and ample proportions overlooking the whole city,” while proximate to the sector of Manhattan into which population was most likely to expand. Potter here shifted his argument from the cultural to the social, justifying the cathedral with many of the arguments that had earlier been used to promote Central Park. Its spacious grounds would provide breathing and resting space for “all sorts and conditions of men” (to invoke the language of the Book of Common Prayer), including mothers and children and workingmen and their wives. A pro-cathedral already stood on the site, which included much of the apparatus of the institutional church movement: (p.92)

The Great American Cathedrals

Tomb of Bishop Henry Codman Potter.

(Courtesy of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine Archives)

schools, a gymnasium, a community house, and other instrumentalities of social outreach beyond the worshipping community. The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, in short, would simultaneously uplift the city’s culture while also extending much-needed relief to its working people.38

One aspect of St. John’s that reflected Potter’s social vision was one of the first to be erected, namely, a series of seven apsidal chapels representing what Potter conceived to be the major ethnic groupings that made up the urban population that the cathedral would serve. These “Chapels of the Tongues” were dedicated respectively to St. James the Apostle, representative of Spain; St. Ambrose, for Italy; St. Martin of Tours, for France; St. Saviour, for Greek and Slavic peoples; St. Columba, for Celts; St. Boniface, for Germans; and St. Ansgar, for Scandinavians. Architects and architectural styles differed, and were chosen in part for their historical resonance with these different regions of Europe.39 Missing were the English—presumably because the entire cathedral was a monument to their heritage—as well as those of non-European origin.40

Henry Codman Potter died in 1908 and is interred in an above-ground tomb in the Chapel of St. James in the manner of a medieval bishop.41 He was succeeded by his coadjutor, David Hummell Greer, who while rector of (p.93) St. Bartholomew’s in midtown Manhattan had shown little interest in the cathedral project. After his accession to the cathedra, however, he worked to utilize St. John’s as a forum for the promotion of the democratic ideology that undergirded the rationale for American participation in the Great War. Greer invited clergy of other denominations, laymen, and visiting English clergy to share the cathedral’s pulpit. British foreign secretary Arthur Balfour spoke at the cathedral’s dedication service on the theme of Anglo-American friendship in 1918, and Elihu Root gave the major address at a service of thanksgiving following the Armistice the next year.42

Greer and his staff continued the themes of Potter’s rhetoric, which they adapted to the ideological climate of the war era. The cathedral’s Dean Howard Chandler Robbins proclaimed that “the Cathedral is the home of Christian democracy” as well as “the House of Prayer for all people.” “Working people of the artisan class could come,” he declared, “because the Cathedral is great, democratic, free.”43 Special services were held for particular groups such as letter carriers, actors, patriotic societies, and Freemasons and other fraternal orders, as well as union confirmation services for the twenty African American churches and missions of the diocese.44 In 1917, Bishop Greer issued “A Cathedral Vision,” a pamphlet in which he articulated his own interpretation of the work of St. John’s. The ultimate aim of social service work, for which the cathedral provided an administrative base, was not simply the improvement of the material conditions of the working classes, but also their spiritual transformation. It was further an instrument for church unity, providing a center around which the various factions of the Christian community could rally, and helping to liberate the church to participate in civic and political affairs without hindering its own growth.45

Most centrally, perhaps, the cathedral was a rebuke to contemporary American materialism. This was not to deny the reality or goodness of materiality as such: Anglicanism was, after all, an incarnational faith that believed that “spiritual realities are mediated to us through the mediating means of material signs and symbols.” The cathedral, though firmly rooted in the reality of this world, was potentially an institution that could serve as a counterweight to the commercial and practical emphases of contemporary American education. Both the church and the world, Greer argued, were “training schools of God.” Greer’s was “a cathedral vision for men of vision in the Church to work for and towards. A vision to work with until it has been at last accomplished and fulfilled, and all those false and cruel and self-exalting aims which are working now in human life and crushing the people (p.94) down, shall be driven out, shall be driven out, and the Kingdom of God shall come, and He Whose right it is to reign in righteousness shall reign.”46 Greer here combined the ecumenical vision of William Reed Huntington with contemporary Anglican incarnational theology and, above all, the rhetoric of the Social Gospel, with its stress on ushering in the Kingdom of God through the application of the Gospel to the social conditions of the day.

Greer was succeeded in 1921 by British-born William Thomas Manning, the Anglo-Catholic rector of Trinity Church at Broadway and Wall Street, who has been evocatively described as “a symbol of progressive aristocracy.”47 Manning’s vision of the role of the cathedral was conditioned by a number of factors: his catholic vision of the Anglican tradition as a source of religious and social unity; his embrace of the popular notion of his era that the Anglo-Saxon or English-speaking peoples shared a special providential role in human affairs; his belief that the church should enter into an alliance with education and commerce for social progress; and his conviction that unity was needed in a nation that had been torn apart by controversies over immigration, radical ideology, and participation in the Great War, with results that disappointed those who had bought into the Wilsonian rhetoric that had justified American involvement.48 Manning was also a creature of the 1920s and utilized his rhetorical and organizational talents to organize large-scale fund-raising drives that included celebrity appeal and mass rallies—the sort of “ballyhoo” that characterized the campaigns of revivalists such as Aimee Semple McPherson and Billy Sunday, although much more genteel in tone.49

Work on St. John’s continued into the 1930s—Manning defended the expenditure as providing jobs for the unemployed—and was suspended during World War II. After the peace, Manning tried to raise another ten million dollars, but abandoned the effort in favor of a drive for half that sum to replace Episcopal missions abroad that had been destroyed during the war. Manning’s successor, Bishop Charles Gilbert, regarded further work on the cathedral as incompatible with the need for funds to help alleviate the plight of the Harlem neighborhood against which the cathedral abutted, and construction was suspended for three decades. Work on the west front was resumed in 1978 in a program through which local youth were to serve as apprentice stone cutters, but the project was abandoned after a few years, with little new work completed. One architectural historian comments: “Today, the partially completed church stands both as a monument to the faith of many New Yorkers, but also as a monument to the overreaching of those who planned (p.95) such an enormous and inevitably impractical building project.” St. John the Divine thus seems perpetually destined to remain “St. John the Unfinished.”50


The germ of the idea for a national cathedral in Washington, D.C., can be traced back to the original city plan by the French engineer Pierre L’Enfant, who developed that city’s unique system of radiating and intersecting avenues named after individual states, so that the city constituted a virtual microcosm of the nation as a whole.51 L’Enfant envisioned “a Great Church for National Purposes,” a sort of cathedral of a civil religion that would be used “for national purposes, such as public prayer, thanksgiving, funeral orations, and be assigned to the use of no particular denomination or sect, but be equally open to all.”52 Nothing came of this project until 1890, when Miss Mary Elizabeth Mann donated property valued at seventy thousand dollars to the diocese of Mary land, which then included the District of Columbia. Bishop William Paret convened a committee to consider the best uses for this gift, and they recommended a cathedral. In 1893 the U.S. Congress granted a charter for such a cathedral, which was signed by President Benjamin Harrison in what, in retrospect, seems a rather odd blurring of church-state boundaries. (Congress became involved apparently through a technicality about the actual ownership of the land, but the federal government’s role gave the enterprise a certain cachet of quasi-establishment that was presumably not unwelcome.)53

The erection of a cathedral in the nation’s capital was complicated by the fact that the city of Washington was not yet the seat of a bishop. The General Convention of 1895 proceeded to constitute the new diocese of Washington, and Henry Yates Satterlee, the rector of Manhattan’s Calvary Church, was shortly thereafter elected the first bishop and consecrated the following year.54 Satterlee was the scion of a well-to-do New York family who was educated at Columbia and, following his conversion by Arthur Cleveland Coxe, the rector of Calvary Church, attended General Theological Seminary. He was then assigned by Bishop Alonzo Potter in 1866 as the assistant at Zion Episcopal Church in the upstate town of Wappingers Falls.55

Satterlee was not unusual in this era for combining a concern for proper High liturgy with a strong sense of social justice. He took a High Church view of his parochial responsibilities in that he saw himself and his congregation as (p.96)

The Great American Cathedrals

Henry Vaughan et al., Washington National Cathedral, 1907–90.

(Courtesy of the National Cathedral Archives)

carrying a responsibility for the entire community, not simply for its Episcopalians. In his roles as assistant and, after 1875, rector, he worked to remodel the church to make it more appropriate for liturgical worship and also to establish a wide range of activities and institutions for the benefit of those in need, such as a home for factory girls, a sewing school for women, and a town library.56 In 1882, Satterlee, who had enjoyed a cordial relationship with both of the bishops Potter, accepted a call to the same Calvary Church he had attended as a college student and proceeded with a similar program of liturgical and social outreach, transforming Calvary along the “institutional church” model pioneered at St. George’s.57

(p.97) Although some Mary land clergy had already taken some initiative in promoting the Washington cathedral project, it was Satterlee who, once installed as bishop, made it his own. After some negotiation, a site on Mount St. Alban’s, where a parish of similar name had already been established, was selected, in part for its commanding view of the capital city.58 In 1905, an advisory committee was selected to decide on a style and engage an architect.59 The committee was indeed select. It consisted of two of the nation’s most prominent “signature” architects: Daniel Burnham, the chief overseer of the design and construction of the “White City” at the 1892 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and Charles Follen McKim, the principal architect of the Boston Public Library.60 Both were associated with the École des Beaux-Arts style, a sort of eclectic neoclassicism on a grand scale, which informed the wave of public building and city planning that dramatically changed the appearance of the nation’s cities during this “American Renaissance.”61 Both Burnham and McKim were also members of the McMillan Commission, which devised the plan that transformed the National Mall into a monumental public space. Perhaps not surprisingly, both Burnham and McKim favored a Renaissance plan for the cathedral. They were, however, balanced out by two of the committee’s other three members, Harvard medievalist Charles F. Moore and Casper Purdon Clarke, the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan. Moore and Clarke favored Gothic, a judgment upheld by the cathedral trustees. This pleased Satterlee, who wrote Burnham that, appropriate as Beaux-Arts classicism might be for governmental buildings, “in the building of a Cathedral there is another Consideration surpassing even that of Monumental Unity. First, last, and always, the Cathedral is ‘House of Prayer for All People’ that was Our Lord’s own description of the Church. … And experience has plainly shown that the Gothic is the distinctively Religious and Christian Style of Architecture which exceeds all others in inspiring prayer and devotional feeling among all sorts and conditions of men.”62 (The last phrase is a conscious echo of the Book of Common Prayer.)

After the issue of style had been settled, the choice of an architect came to the forefront. In 1906, without the sort of public competition that had become so controversial in the planning of St. John’s in New York, the committee selected two prominent Gothicists, George Bodley and Henry Vaughan. Bodley, who had learned his trade with Sir George Gilbert Scott and had collaborated with Arts and Crafts leader William Morris, was arguably Britain’s premier church architect of the later Victorian period and a proponent (p.98) of fourteenth-century English Gothic. Vaughan, the “American” half of the duo, was actually born in England and immigrated in 1881 to Boston, from which base he designed a number of the most significant Episcopal churches and chapels of the era. (These included Christ Church in New Haven, Connecticut, a bastion of Anglo-Catholic worship; the chapels of Groton and St. Paul’s schools; and portions of St. John the Divine Cathedral.) Bodley died in 1907, and was succeeded by Vaughan, who survived him by ten years. Vaughan in turn was succeeded in 1921 by Philip Frohman, the designer of the chapels at Trinity College and the Kent School, both in Connecticut, and who remained the cathedral’s primary architect until the time of his death in 1972. Although a Roman Catholic, he was interred in the cathedral’s Chapel of St. Joseph of Arimathea through a special dispensation from the Washington archdiocese.63

The rhetorics that came into play in the formation of the National Cathedral—more formally known as the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul—reflect the convergence of the structure’s intersecting rationales.64 On the one hand, it was an Episcopal cathedral that was shaped by both a bishop and a succession of architects immersed in the Anglo-Catholic movement of the era. Like Cram, both Satterlee and Frohman were enamored of the Gothic style as expressive of the sacramental symbolism of the Catholic—though not necessarily Roman Catholic—tradition of worship. Satterlee was also deeply imbued with the thought of England’s Lux Mundi movement, in which theologians such as Charles Gore expounded a theology where the doctrine of the Incarnation was regarded as central to a distinctively Anglican understanding of the relationship between God and creation, including humanity.65 Such a theological approach reconciled a penchant for liturgical worship in richly symbolic churches with a concern for the amelioration of human suffering in the social and economic realms.66 The fusion of these two themes was unique to the emergence of a distinctive Episcopal identity during this era and manifested itself with particular clarity in the cathedral project.

Another context in which the building of American Episcopal cathedrals, and particularly the National Cathedral, took place was the deep-seated notion that the Episcopal Church was destined to be in some sense an established national church, on the model of its prototype, the Church of England.67 Since literal establishment was prohibited by the First Amendment, Episcopalians had to seek other strategies, much as had the Evangelical denominations in their creation of the “Benevolent Empire” of evangelistic (p.99) and reform voluntary agencies in the 1820s. By the late nineteenth century, this establishmentarian quest had taken on a number of aspects. One was the notion, promoted especially by William Reed Huntington, that the Episcopal Church, as the “bridge” between Catholic and Protestant traditions, was the ideal candidate to serve as the nucleus for a national church in which all ecumenically minded denominations could join.68 The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, adopted by the Episcopal Church in 1884 and two years later by the Church of England as a basic affirmation of the foundations of Anglican Christianity, was originally formulated by Huntington as the basis for ecumenical conversations that never, at least in the short run, bore a great deal of fruit.69 (Henry Yates Satterlee’s tomb at the National Cathedral is surrounded by four pillars representing the four points of the Quadrilateral.)

Another way in which the cathedral was entwined with the establishment idea lay in the relationship of the Episcopal Church with the national government. Although the newly independent American branch of Anglicanism suffered in its initial existence from the taint of Loyalism, it had by the early nineteenth century rapidly attained a prestige rivaled only by the Presbyterians among Protestant denominations. In the civic realm, this prestige expressed itself in the disproportionate number of Episcopalians among holders of high public office, including the presidency.* St. John’s Episcopal Church, for example, located close to the White House, has been dubbed “the Church of Presidents”; it is rich in presidential iconography and boasts that every president to date has worshipped there, even though the majority have not been actual members.

By the late nineteenth century, other denominations were beginning to establish monumental presences in the capital city. In 1869, the Metropolitan Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church was erected near the Capitol, with memorials to historic figures in the Methodist tradition and pews reserved for governmental officials.70 Others included Catholic University and its nearby Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Methodist-sponsored American University, and churches of a variety of denominations.71 Part of (p.100) this flurry of activity antedated the cathedral; more came as a reaction to the nascent cathedral’s implicit claims to be the national church, as when President Wilson was persuaded to participate in a service of thanksgiving after the Armistice in which only Episcopal clergy took part.72 In any case, the Episcopal Church could not take for granted the preeminent status to which it aspired, and the National Cathedral project from its inception played a role in this campaign and in Satterlee’s vision in particular.

One of the Satterlee’s first major promotional projects was the erection of the Peace Cross to coincide with the meeting of the General Convention in Washington in 1898. The cross, which was hurriedly quarried and carved in time for the event, was ostensibly a commemoration of the ending of the Spanish-American War and an implicit tribute to Admiral George Dewey, the hero of Manila Bay, whom Satterlee particularly admired and who was a trustee of the cathedral. President McKinley was induced to speak at the site, with the Marine Band providing the music. Satterlee also arranged for the transfer of the remains of Thomas Claggett, the first Episcopal bishop to be consecrated in the United States, together with those of his wife, for reburial at the cathedral, thus adding further ecclesiastical legitimacy to the project. He also secured the services of Thomas Nelson Page, a writer of popular fiction who had romanticized the antebellum South in such works as In Ole Virginia (1887) and later served as ambassador to Italy, to write The Peace Cross Book as a piece of publicity. All of this display proved successful in persuading the General Convention to recognize the cathedral project formally.73

Another promotional coup for Satterlee occurred in October of 1903, when the All American Conference of Bishops—including those from Canada and the West Indies—convened in Washington. Satterlee arranged for them to converge on the cathedral site on a Sunday afternoon for an outdoor service. A total of sixteen thousand attended the service, where the Marine Band again played, and President Theodore Roosevelt provided some hortatory words about the moral responsibilities of religious leaders.74 The cathedral was rapidly gaining an identity as an icon both for the Episcopal Church and for the nation.

Satterlee was an accomplished promoter of a project that in his mind and rhetoric brought together a complex of themes and objectives. He saw the cathedral as playing three roles: “A House of Prayer for All People”; “Chief Mission Church of the Diocese”; and “A General Church for National Purposes.”75 Although the ecumenical and national roles he envisioned for (p.101) the cathedral were never completely fulfilled—in part because he always insisted on the centrality of the Episcopal Church in any attempt at religious unity—he accomplished a remarkable amount in planning the project, generating publicity, and obtaining widespread support and funding. However much involvement in worldly activities such a project necessitated, it remained firmly anchored in Satterlee’s distinctively Anglican vision of the cathedral as a sacramental presence that could help sanctify the life of the city and the nation as well as that of the church.

Satterlee’s successor once removed, James E. Freeman, who became bishop of Washington in 1923, was cut from a very different piece of cloth. Prior to his ordination, Freeman had been a businessman who had attended neither college nor seminary, and his approach to the project has been characterized as “a businessman’s ecumenism.”76 Although their theologies may have differed, Freeman had a great deal in common with his New York counter part, William Manning, in their common embrace of the techniques of advertising and promotion that characterized the “Jazz Age.” Freeman saw the cathedral as an icon of Christian presence for the nation as a whole and pitched his campaign for support in that direction. To this end, he did his best to obtain for the cathedral literal remnants of prominent Americans, so that the public would associate the structure with civic patriotism. Although his attempt to have Warren Harding buried there was unsuccessful, he had better luck with Woodrow Wilson, convincing the twenty-eighth president’s widow of the propriety of the concept. That Wilson, the son of a Southern Presbyterian minister, should lie here may seem odd, but his second wife, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, was an Episcopalian who conducted much of the business of the presidency after her husband had become incapacitated.77 Mrs. Wilson later took offense when she came to believe that the presence of her husband’s body was being exploited by Freeman for fund-raising, and the latter reluctantly but rapidly backed away from such efforts.78

San Francisco

The story of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral is similar in many ways to that of its grand counterparts in New York and Washington, but with some regional distinctiveness. William Ingraham Kip, the first bishop of California, had promoted the idea, even to the point of having “Grace Cathedral” stamped on the prayer books of the church he had served as rector, but little came of the plan. William F. Nichols, his successor, was inspired by the example (p.102) of St. John the Divine to revive the notion, but found little support until nature intervened in the form of the 1906 earthquake. Grace Church was destroyed, as were the Nob Hill mansions of one of its wealthy parishioners, the Crocker family. When banker William H. Crocker, the spokesman for the second generation of the family, indicated to Nichols that a major gift was in the offing, Nichols traveled to New York to negotiate the matter with the Crockers on board the Elsa II, the private yacht of William’s brother-in-law. The result was the gift of the Nob Hill properties to the diocese as the site of the new Grace Cathedral.79

The Grace Cathedral Corporation was organized in November of 1906 and included equal numbers of clergy and prominent local businessmen, including William H. Crocker. George Bodley, one of the two original designers of the National Cathedral, was appointed architect, but died shortly thereafter and was succeeded by his assistant, Cecil Hare. Although the cornerstone was laid in 1910, construction did not begin until 1927 under Lewis Hobart, a local architect who had come to be in charge of the project (and was also Crocker’s cousin by marriage). The ubiquitous Ralph Adams Cram served as consultant. The cathedral functioned out of the Founders’ Crypt from 1914 until 1941. Grace itself, which combines features from a variety of medieval French Gothic cathedrals, was not consecrated until 1964 under controversial Bishop James A. Pike. Its use of steel-reinforced concrete is a concession to the vicissitudes of California geology.80

Bishop Nichols had been laying the conceptual and rhetorical foundations for what would become Grace Cathedral as early as his address to the 1896 diocesan convention, which he expanded upon in 1913 after the project was already well under way. Nichols’s primary rationale for a diocesan cathedral was its utility in domestic missionary work, and he quoted William Reed Huntington to the effect that “in all our large cities there is a steadily increasing population of unattached Christians … [who] live for the most part concealed in flats and are exceedingly inaccessible to the shepherds of souls.” He invoked the twin ideals of leitourgia (worship) and diakonia (service) as two intertwined fundamentals of Christian practice that cathedrals symbolized and facilitated. Nichols touched other notes, including an invocation of Congregationalist theologian Horace Bushnell on the sublimity of European cathedrals and of the magnificent San Francesco Church standing against the skyline of Assisi. Given all this, Nichols asserted, “we need not stop to discuss whether Cathedrals are not superfluous in this practical utilitarian age, or whether they are not in danger of becoming an Episcopal fetich [sic].”81

(p.103) The Significance of the American Cathedral

The various rhetorics used to promote the cathedral enterprise among Americans in general and Episcopalians in particular reflected the ambiguities involved in reviving the architectural expression of an era remote in time and culture as an expression of the values of Americans in the Progressive Era. To be sure, American architecture from the time of In dependence at least had been characterized by a series of stylistic revivals, but a reasonably plausible case had been made for the affinities of the Greek and Roman modes with modern democratic ideology. Bishops and architects alike stressed not only the appropriateness of Gothic as the “only proper style” for Christian worship—an argument that worked more comfortably for parish churches than for the more public cathedrals—but also as a modern style, just as the cathedral was framed as a modern institution. The results were expressed in the great American cathedrals of the era not simply in verbal rationales aimed at gaining legitimacy and, especially, financial support, but in the fabric of the buildings themselves. (“Fabric” in this context refers to the entire physical makeup of a structure.)

One way of understanding the distinctiveness of these cathedrals is by constructing a typology, reflected in the list below, that highlights both their novelty and their continuity with the past. I place particular emphasis on the cathedrals in New York, Washington, and San Francisco that have just been discussed.

  1. 1. Scale. Although cathedrals need not be large—or any size in particular—the three under consideration here are enormous. Since there are no universally agreed-upon criteria for determining “largeness,” there is an irresolvable rivalry among cathedrals as to which is the largest in the nation or world. Many lists put St. John the Divine at the top—certainly for the United States, arguably for the world—and the National Cathedral also makes some worldwide “top ten” lists.82

  2. 2. Siting. All three are located on elevated sites: St. John’s in Morningside Heights, Grace on Nob Hill, and, most spectacularly, the National Cathedral on Mount St. Alban’s, the highest elevation in Washington. As with size, the effect here is one of majesty and dominance.

  3. 3. Plant. In addition to the cathedral building itself, the plant—that is, the totality of physical components—of larger cathedrals typically (p.104) includes a substantial plat of grounds on which reside the close, that is, a compound of buildings that adjoin the main building, often in the shape of a quadrangle. Such buildings may include diocesan offices, the bishop’s house, meeting spaces, and educational facilities. The National Cathedral has a particularly elaborate close, with spacious landscaped grounds, a “Cathedral College” for continuing education, and shops for the sale of books, gifts, and herbs. Grace Cathedral is distinguished by labyrinths, which serve as meditative aids, on the model of Chartres.83

  4. 4. Style. Although the original plan for St. John’s was an amalgam of earlier medieval styles, and there were prominent advocates for the Renaissance in the early stages of the planning of the National Cathedral, Gothic emerged as the winner in each case. English Gothic predominated in the National Cathedral, as it did in Anglican church and cathedral design more broadly during this era. (Cram’s final design for St. John’s included French elements, and these predominated at Grace.) The prestige of Gothic in general and English Gothic in particular seems unsurprising in retrospect, given the English antecedents and continuing connections of the Episcopal Church. The predominance of the Gothic style also stemmed from the fact that this was an era in which Anglophilia exerted a strong pull on American taste more generally; from the influence exerted by architects Upjohn, Vaughan, and Cram in ecclesiastical circles; from the success of John Ruskin in legitimizing Gothic for contemporary use; from the continuing influence of the Oxford movement in emphasizing the continuity of the Christian church over the centuries; and from the influence of the Cambridge movement in pushing Anglicans (other than dyed-in-the-wool Low Churchmen) in the direction of traditional liturgical worship.

  5. 5. Worship Center. These American cathedrals, like their medieval prototypes, were designed for a particular kind of worship that was quite distinct from the main run of Protestantism, at least until the 1920s, and that had more in common with Roman Catholicism than with the Methodists or Presbyterians of the day. The internal arrangements of the structure were hierarchical, beginning with a narthex that provides a transition from the secular realm into that of the sacred; a nave in which the congregation is seated, in the midst of which is located a broad aisle for liturgical processions; and a sanctuary (p.105) area, elevated above the nave, in which the altar resides. (The choir may be situated in various arrangements.) The cumulative effect is one of increasing degrees of sacrality as one advances from the west entry to the east-oriented altar. This liturgical arrangement is closest in affinity to the Anglo-Catholic tradition, reflected in the churchmanship of bishops such as Satterlee and Manning. Form here follows function in a very explicitly theological manner.

  6. 6. Administrative Center. A principal rationale for American cathedrals offered by Henry Codman Potter and other early advocates was that they could serve as a central administrative center for the diocese, thereby promoting efficiency while simultaneously providing a symbol of diocesan unity. Cathedral closes thus provide office space for bishops, deans, and members of the cathedral chapter, who function as a sort of cabinet for the bishop, each having a particular administrative responsibility. Cathedrals also provide meeting rooms, educational programs, and other facilities and activities that draw together laity and clergy from throughout the diocese.

  7. 7. Educational Center. In addition to providing a place of worship and diocesan administration, the closes of many cathedrals include educational facilities. In the very earliest stages of the National Cathedral project, Phoebe A. Hearst, the widow of California businessman and Senator George Hearst, donated $175,000 for what would become the National Cathedral School for girls. This was the first part of the close, designed in the Renaissance mode by Ernest Flagg.84 St. Albans School for boys was established shortly thereafter, and an elementary school, Beauvoir, was added to the complex in 1933.85 Today’s Cathedral School of St. John the Divine was founded by Bishop Potter in 1901, originally for the training of choirboys (as was St. Albans).86 The St. John’s complex also included a school for deaconesses, which was abandoned, as that office became obsolete. Grace Cathedral later opened a boys’ school. Cathedrals in recent years maintain a variety of educational outreach programs for the broader community.

  8. 8. Arts. Like many of the grand parish churches of the era, the great cathedrals were from early on collections of and repositories for the liturgical arts, including mural painting, stone sculpture, wood carving, metalwork, embroidery, and stained glass. The era of great immigration had brought with it a variety of artists and skilled (p.106) craftspersons on a remarkable scale, such as the Italian stonemasons who were major players in the National Cathedral’s extensive sculptural programs.87 Polish émigrés Samuel Yellin, the premier metalworker of his day, who wrought the National Cathedral’s intricate gates, and Jan Henryk de Rosen, who painted Grace Cathedral’s rather fanciful historical murals, were among others whose talents were available to the ecclesiastical patrons of this age. Glass artists abounded, among them Boston’s Connick Studios, which worked carefully with Cram in re-creating the techniques of Chartres Cathedral. In addition to the many pieces commissioned especially for the cathedral projects, others ranging over a broad span of the history of Christian art were acquired over the years. Cathedrals also often host musical activities, as exemplified in the choir schools that several of them sponsor.88

  9. 9. Iconography. Much of cathedral art is representational and, not surprisingly, much of what is represented are themes from the Bible and the subsequent history of Christianity. Since Episcopalians had, by this time, overcome the traditional Protestant antipathy to the depiction of human figures, cathedral art—sculpture, painting, glass—abounds with motifs taken from both Hebrew and Christian scripture, especially those having to do with the life and work of Jesus. In addition, the Virgin Mary, the Apostles, and the entire communio sanctorum find their place in the art of the cathedrals. Another aspect of medieval iconography carried over into modern cathedral decoration is the gargoyle, a small, fanciful grotesque sculpture used as a waterspout. (Water runs out through the figure’s mouth.) An updated version can be found in the National Cathedral in the shape of Darth Vader, the archvillain of the Star Wars film series.

    In addition to this narration of sacred history in a catholic manner, American cathedrals introduce other narratives into their iconographical programs. The National Cathedral, not surprisingly, abounds in imagery from the history of the United States, ranging from statues of Washington and Lincoln to the actual body of Woodrow Wilson. The de Rosen murals at Grace interweave elements of the introduction of Christianity into England, the founding of the Franciscan Order by its city’s namesake, the coming of the English and their church to California, and the founding of the Episcopal (p.107) Church.89 Grace’s windows extend the story of the continuing work of the Spirit, through Christianity, but also through images of human achievement such as the figures of astronaut John Glenn and physicist Albert Einstein. Similarly, the “bays”—divisions of the nave—of St. John’s pay tribute, on the model of the medieval guilds that sponsored various cathedral segments, to a wide variety of human activities, from sports to motherhood. The main window of the Sports Bay, also known as St. Hubert’s Chapel, has medallions commemorating twenty-eight sports, including baseball, auto racing, fencing, and bowling. Its clerestory (upper-level) window features the Old Testament Nimrod, “the mighty hunter,” and St. Hubert of Tongres, an early medieval bishop who was also particularly fond of hunting.90

  10. 10. Funerary Monument. Following the precedent of European churches, cathedrals, and, most notably, London’s Westminster Abbey, American cathedrals memorialize the eminent dead with wall plaques or, on occasion, through the actual interment of their remains. Frequently these are churchmen associated with the cathedral. Bishops Horatio Potter, Henry Codman Potter, and William Manning lie in repose in tombs reminiscent of those of medieval bishops in St. John’s, and Henry Yates Satterlee’s sarcophagus is located behind the altar of the National Cathedral’s Bethlehem Chapel, “above the Foundation Stone and below the Jerusalem Altar, surrounded by the four pillars representing the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral.”91 The bodies or ashes of a variety of other notables interred in the National Cathedral include cathedral architect Philip Frohman; Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan; Admiral George Dewey, who had played a role in the cathedral’s inception; Secretary of State Cordell Hull; and Missouri Senator Stuart Symington.92 The National Cathedral’s most notable interment is that of Woodrow Wilson, whose sarcophagus lies in the south aisle. The presence of a presidential tomb also may render the cathedral a pilgrimage site in the national “civil religion.”93

  11. 11. Microcosm. Historian of religion scholar Mircea Eliade has noted that sacred buildings often have the character of a microcosm, that is, a recapitulation of the cosmos in miniature symbolic form. Medieval cathedrals such as Chartres can be read in this way not (p.108)

The Great American Cathedrals

The Space Window in the Washington National Cathedral contains a piece of rock from the moon. It was designed by St. Louis artist Rodney Winfield and dedicated in 1974.

(Courtesy of the National Cathedral Archives)

  • (p.109) only in such features as orientation—the altar stands at the east end, associating it with both the rising sun and the risen Christ—but also in artistic schemata that recapitulate the entirety of Christian Heilsgeschichte—the “history of salvation” from the creation through the Incarnation to the final consummation. Thus the stories and figures of both biblical testaments and the subsequent history of the Christian church are illustrated in painting, sculpture, and stained glass. (Eastern Orthodox churches carry out the same tasks on a smaller scale in their iconographical layouts.) The translation of this motif to the American scene is well illustrated in our earlier discussion of the iconography of Grace Cathedral.

    American cathedrals carry out a similar task in the depiction of sacred scenes and in the literal incorporation of objects from other sacred sites that have particular relevance to their identity and mission. One good example is the great bronze doors of Grace Cathedral, which were cast from the molds of Lorenzo Ghiberti’s “Doors of Paradise” at the baptistery of the duomo (cathedral) in Florence, Italy, and which consist of a series of frames depicting biblical scenes from both testaments.94 Among the earliest activities in the construction of the National Cathedral was the acquisition of a series of iconic objects: twelve marble blocks from King Solomon’s quarry near Jerusalem for the high (Jerusalem) altar; twenty carved stones from the ruined abbey of Glastonbury in England for the Glastonbury Cathedra; and other stones from the “mother ship” of Anglicanism, Canterbury Cathedral, out of which the Canterbury Pulpit was fashioned.95 Incorporated into the fabric of the building itself is a stone from Mount Sinai. These structures deliberately echo earlier monuments of Jewish and Christian art and history, and they recapitulate that history by selectively incorporating small pieces of earlier structures with iconic resonance. Perhaps the ultimate act of literal incorporation is the piece of moon rock contained in the National Cathedral’s Space Window.*

  1. (p.110) 12. Tourism and Pilgrimage Site. The combination of many of the above-mentioned features—scale, siting, art, funereal monument—with their somewhat exotic appearance in highly urban, commercial settings, as well as active efforts at promotion by bishops and their staffs, turned the great national cathedrals into attractive sites for religious pilgrims, secular sightseers, or, in many cases, people who combined both motives in differing degrees. The burial of Woodrow Wilson at the National Cathedral, as noted above, seems to have been the result of Bishop Freeman’s desire to have an attraction that would appeal to historically and patriotically minded tourists. (By 1925, shortly after Wilson’s interment, the cathedral had attracted as many visitors as Arlington Cemetery and Mount Vernon, and the number reached a quarter of a million the following year.)96 All of these cathedrals now have giftshops and groups of “friends” who are encouraged to become generous donors for the cathedrals’ upkeep and programming. (The National Cathedral as well as Boston’s Trinity Church now charge admission to visitors arriving when worship is not being conducted.)

  2. 13. Public Ritual Site (“Civil Religion”). From early on, the great cathedrals provided appropriate sites for public rituals, particularly sermons or other addresses, memorial services, and funerals of public dignitaries. The appearances of British statesman Arthur Balfour and his American counterpart Elihu Root at St. John’s in the final phases of the Great War are a good example of the civic purposes to which the cathedrals could be put, and for which, in fact, they had been partially intended. Although in the early decades of the cathedrals only Episcopal clergy were permitted in most cases to officiate at services, in more recent years the cathedrals have taken on a deliberate ecumenical role, and have opened their pulpits to prominent religious figures of a variety of backgrounds, such as Martin Luther King Jr. and the Dalai Lama.97 The National Cathedral (p.111) especially has served as the site for state funerals both for Episcopalians, such as Gerald Ford, and non-Episcopalians, such as Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan, and provided a venue for the second President Bush’s addressing the nation after national disasters such as the 2001 “9/11” attacks and hurricane Katrina.98 (A notable fictional appropriation of the National Cathedral took place in a 2001 episode of the popular television series The West Wing, in which President Josiah Bartlet argues with God in Latin and grinds out a cigarette butt on the cathedral’s floor after a memorial service for his secretary, who had been killed in an auto accident.) Although the term “civil religion” is elusively vague, it is evocative when applied to these cathedrals’ playing a significant role in framing the collective life of the American nation as a locus of religious meaning.

  3. 14. Sacred Space. Like “civil religion,” “sacred space” is a term that is protean and much contested, but nevertheless indispensable. A plausible argument has been made that the capital city itself—or at least the monumental structures on and in the vicinity of the Mall—are a collection of sacred spaces, or tout ensemble constitute one such unified space.99 Although the National Cathedral has a special role to play in the collective iconography and ritual space of the nation’s capital, it shares with the other great American cathedrals the attributes cataloged above, most of which can be seen as constituent components of sacrality in a religious building: elevated siting; setting for sacramental worship; memorial to and site of repose for the dead; cosmic iconography; symbolic and physical linkage with other sacred sites; pilgrimage destination. Although Anglican theology—unlike that of the Reformed tradition—is somewhat ambiguous about the sacred character of worship settings, its Anglo-Catholic wing is quite emphatically positive on this point, and it is difficult to read these particular cathedrals as other than quite intentional attempts to create such an effect.

The significance of the “great American cathedrals” is complex and should be pursued in a multiplicity of contexts. First, the cathedrals were begun in a distinctive moment in the history of the American city. This was an era in which monumental buildings of all sorts—commercial, cultural, governmental, even residential—were converging to create a cityscape on a far grander scale than any that had existed prior to the Civil War. This expansive new (p.112) program of design and construction had many sources: vast new wealth, the explosion of urban populations, the desire of urban elites for cultural legitimacy in the eyes of Europe in general and England in particular, improved building technology, and the aesthetic of the “City Beautiful” movement that envisioned cities not simply as commercial sprawls but as expressions of neoclassical beauty and repose. These same cities were arenas of religious competition, with Roman Catholics and Jews aggressively making their presence known as actors in the public sphere, and Protestants trying both to hold their ground and also to reach out to new urbanites through theatrical worship and programs of social amelioration. The three great cathedrals considered at some length here raised the ante in this competition by building on such a scale, on such prominent sites, with such elaboration of detail, and at so great an expense as to assert definitively, if not defiantly, the preeminence in cultural, social, and religious leadership that many Episcopalians believed to be rightfully theirs.

These campaigns of cathedral building also reveal something of the dynamics of the self-understanding of the Episcopal community of the day. Many of the rationales expressed by the cathedrals’ advocates reflected a desire to present these projects not as retrograde exercises in archaism but rather as thoroughly modern, democratic, reformist, and American in spirit. (Ralph Adams Cram was arguably an exception.) The Social Gospel was at least implicit in the mission proclaimed for these new entities, namely, the spiritual and material enhancement of the urban masses, who were falling through the cracks of the new social order. Cathedrals could not only provide outreach to “all sorts and conditions,” they could do it efficiently through centralized oversight and economies of scale.

This message of rationalized social outreach, however, was frequently given a distinctively Anglican twist in the establishmentarian assumption of the responsibility of the Episcopal Church not only for its own flock but for the entire social order—the city or the nation as corporate entities in need of a spiritual center. An undercurrent of Anglo-Saxon, or Anglo-American, providential mission was also implicit in this notion. The Gothic form that these institutions inevitably assumed was an implicit reference to the kind of corporate social order once, allegedly, manifested in medieval society, but dispersed in the wake of industrial age individualism. The simultaneously modern and archaic cathedral could stand in judgment against a secularized culture in which materialism and acquisitiveness reigned. The cathedral might thus be seen as an ecclesiastical counterweight to the “cathedrals of (p.113) commerce,” such as Manhattan’s Woolworth Building, that were claiming material primacy in many of the nation’s central business districts.100

In creative tension with the social mission of the cathedral was its sacramental character. Cathedrals were, after all, places of worship as well as of administration, and the kind of worship that was to take place there was far different in kind from that which might be found in the Methodist or Presbyterian preaching theaters that were a distinctive feature of contemporary urban Protestant life.101 Unlike these churches, which took as their model the secular theater of their day, the cathedrals were material settings for sacramental worship, and all their features converged to evoke a sense of sacrality, of mediation between everyday life and the supernatural realm. This notion of sacramental worship was in part a result of the Anglo-Catholic proclivities of bishops such as Manning and Satterlee, but was also consistent with the incarnationalism of the Lux Mundi movement that influenced Broad Churchmen as well as High.

Another context for understanding the cathedral movement was the impulse toward administrative centralization manifest during this age in both secular and ecclesiastical culture. Both “Robber Barons” and Roman Catholic bishops gained success in their respective spheres through the consolidation of wealth and power in hierarchical organizations. Although Episcopal bishops were institutionally constrained from the sort of absolute authority that their Roman counterparts enjoyed, they nevertheless sought to enhance their influence in their diocesan domains, with the cathedral as an “outward and visible” sign of their power as well as an actual center for administrative work. One perhaps unintended consequence of the cathedral movement was that these bishops were compelled, willingly or otherwise, to take on the roles of financiers and promoters that were necessary to raise the vast funds that building the cathedrals entailed.

The cumulative effect of these contexts was that the American cathedral could be seen as exhibiting a tension, if not a contradiction, between the affirmation and rejection of the dominant culture. Episcopalians were a self-admittedly worldly lot, and in self-definition the opposite of sectarian in their embrace of life within and responsibility for the secular world. Though frequently elitist and Anglo-Saxonist, they spoke a language of democracy and inclusiveness. The cathedral was promoted as a place within that world from which prophetic judgments could be made upon that world’s ways. It was also, physically, a place quite remote from that world, in which the worshipper could withdraw into a realm of sacrality from which the secular (p.114) was excluded. But it was also a massive physical plant, the construction and maintenance of which required a constant strenuous campaign of promotion and fundraising, with bishops and deans cultivating the wealthy and powerful as potential donors. The cathedral was, in short, as complex and ambiguous an entity as the Episcopal Church itself.


(1.) James Elliott Lindsley, This Planted Vine: A Narrative History of the Episcopal Diocese of New York (New York: Harper & Row, 1984), 202; Edward Hagaman Hall (original complier), A Guide to the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in the City of New York (New York: The Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral Church, 1965), 6.

(2.) Robert Prichard, A History of the Episcopal Church (Harrisburg, Pa.: More house, 1999), 192–93.

(3.) William Lawrence, Memories of a Happy Life (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1926), 34. This account of the establishment of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Boston is based on chapter 25, “Founding the Cathedral, 1902–1912.” Phillips Brooks, Lawrence’s predecessor as bishop of Massachusetts, had shared Lawrence’s sense that centralized episcopal authority and clerical unity were missing in the diocese while he was still rector at Trinity Church. See Raymond W. Albright, Focus on Infinity: A Life of Phillips Brooks (New York: Macmillan, 1961), 193.

(5.) Ibid., 312–14; David A. Kalvelage, Cathedrals in the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. (Cincinnati: Forward Movement Publications, 1993), 25. Lawrence notes that William Reed Huntington had suggested a replica of St. Botolph’s Tower in Boston, England, be located on the current site of MIT.

(6.) Kalvelage, Cathedrals, 25. In 1927, the interior was remodeled by Ralph Adams Cram, accommodating classical style to more Anglo-Catholic ritual uses, foreshadowing nearby Trinity’s remodeling the following decade.

(8.) Lawrence, The Cathedral (1904 diocesan convention address), quoted in Memories, 316. (Later published by the Merrymount Press, Boston, 1915.)

(10.) Thomas F. Rzeznik, “‘Representatives of All That Is Noble’: The Rise of the Episcopal Establishment in Early Twentieth-Century Philadelphia,” Religion and American Culture 19, no. 1 (Winter 2009): 72–80.

(11.) In the Michigan diocese, for example, the new cathedral, though bearing that title, continued to operate as a parish church. It was only some years later that a cathedral (p.239) chapter—a formal staff, meeting regularly and charged with the governance and operations of the cathedral itself—was organized, and a new building erected to house the operations both of the chapter and the diocesan staff. The addition of adjoining facilities to house such operations as a cathedral school eventually created a U-shaped complex that was given the traditional English name of “cathedral close,” that is, an open space enclosed by the surrounding buildings. See “Through the Years” 1834–1988: A History of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan (Detroit, Mich.: Chapter of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, 1989), xiv, 134.

(12.) Andrew S. Dolkart, Morningside Heights: A History of Its Architecture and Development (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 37. Chapter 2, “Buildings for the Spirit,” contains excellent and detailed architectural histories of both St. John the Divine and Riverside Church.

(14.) Ibid., 39.

(16.) Ibid., 40.

(17.) Ralph Adams Cram, who would later take over the cathedral project, characterized it as “a free rendering of Romanesque and Norman motives, conceived on a large and powerful scale both in plan and superstructure, while it had the great central ‘preaching space,’ at that time, before the sacramental aspect of the Christian Faith had recovered its position of primacy, held by the authorities to be a desideratum.” My Life in Architecture (Boston: Little, Brown, 1936), 169.

(19.) Guastavino vaults were also employed at Grand Central Terminal, Ellis Island, St. Bartholomew’s Church, and numerous other monumental structures in Manhattan and elsewhere.

(23.) Dolkart, Morningside Heights, 60–64; Cram, My Life, esp. 179. See also Cram’s Walled Towns (Boston: Marshall Jones, 1919), discussed in the preceding chapter, for an elaboration of some of his ideas advocating a revival of medieval cultural and social forms.

(25.) Other major donors to the cathedral besides J. P. Morgan and the Stuyvesants included prominent members of the Astor, Belmont, and Vanderbilt families. Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook, By Grace Came the Incarnation (New York: Church of the Incarnation, 2004), 95.

(26.) Others among the many prominent members of the Committee for Completing the Cathedral of St. John the Divine included Nicholas Murray Butler, president of Columbia University; Elihu Root, secretary of War and State and U.S. senator; George W. Wickersham, the eponymous chair of the commission to review Prohibition (p.240) under Herbert Hoover; and General George W. Goethals, of Panama Canal fame. The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, A New Cathedral in a New World (New York, 1925[?]), unpaginated.

(28.) Henry Codman Potter, “The Cathedral and Its Uses” (Albany, N.Y.: Weed, Parsons and Company, 1888).

(29.) Ibid., 2–3.

(30.) Ibid., 8–11.

(31.) Ibid., 11–13.

(32.) Ibid., 13–14.

(33.) Ibid., 16–17.

(34.) Henry Codman Potter, “An American Cathedral,” Munsey’s Magazine, May 1898, 243. See also Potter, “The Significance of the American Cathedral,” The Forum, May 1892, 351–59.

(36.) Ibid., 245.

(37.) Ibid., 248–49.

(38.) Ibid., 249.

(39.) Hall, Guide to the Cathedral Church, 146–82; Michael Bourgeois, All Things Human: Henry Codman Potter and the Social Gospel in the Episcopal Church (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004), 73, 78.

(40.) Although he opposed immigration restriction, Potter nevertheless clung to the idea of Anglo-Saxon superiority. Bourgeois, All Things, 212.

(42.) Charles Lewis Slattery, David Hummell Greer, Eighth Bishop of New York (New York: Longmans, Green, 1921), 238–39.

(43.) Quoted in ibid., 236–37.

(44.) Ibid., 313.

(45.) Ibid., 304–7.

(46.) Quoted in ibid., 308–11.

(47.) Thomas P. Miller, “Magnificent Obsession: Bishop Manning’s Campaign to Build the Cathedral of St. John the Divine” (M.S.T. thesis, General Theological Seminary, New York, 1997), 8, 14. For an entertaining contemporary portrait of Manning, see Alva Johnston, “The First Churchman,” in Profiles from the New Yorker (New York: Knopf, 1938), 154–64.

(49.) Manning in 1923 engaged the public relations firm of Tamblyn and Brown to help manage his fund-raising campaign, thus employing some of the new agencies of commercial persuasion that were characteristic of this business-oriented decade. Ibid., 30.

(51.) It is possible that George Washington may actually have first conceived the idea of a national church. See David R. Bains, “‘America’s Westminster Abbey’: Establishing the National Status of the National Cathedral,” presentation, annual meeting of the American Society of Church History, Washington, D.C., January 6, 2008 (p.241) . Bains cites C. M. Harris, “Washington’s Gamble, L’Enfant’s Dream: Politics, Design, and the Founding of the National Capital,” William and Mary Quarterly 3rd ser. 56 (July 1999): 542, 544–45.

(52.) Christopher Dean Hamilton Row, “World without End: Philip Hubert Frohman and the Washington National Cathedral” (Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 1999), 6; Richard T. Feller and Marshall Fishwick, For Thy Great Glory (Culpepper, Va.: Community Press, 1965), 3.

(53.) Feller and Fishwick, For Thy Great Glory, 4; Richard Greening Hewlett, The Foundation Stone: Henry Yates Satterlee and the Creation of the Washington National Cathedral (Rockville, Md.: Montrose Press, 2007), 49.

(55.) Ibid., 7–12.

(56.) Ibid., 15–17.

(57.) Ibid, 22–30. St. George’s and the “institutional church” phenomenon are discussed at greater length in chapter 4. Although Satterlee, like Henry Codman Potter, might be characterized as an advocate of the Social Gospel, he kept his distance from the movement, disliking what he regarded as excessive reliance on the social sciences at the expense of the establishment of a “sacred community” (32–33).

(58.) Ibid., 65.

(59.) An earlier Renaissance-inspired scheme by Ernest Flagg had been solicited by the cathedral board and then rejected as too expensive. Ibid., 56–58.

(60.) Their firms were, respectively, Burnham and Root and McKim, Mead and White.

(61.) See Richard Guy Wilson, Dianne Pilgrim, and Richard N. Murray, The American Renaissance, 1876–1917 (New York: Brooklyn Museum/Pantheon Books, 1979). American Renaissance refers to a resurgence of architecture and allied arts and should not be confused with the same phrase that has been used to describe the literary revival of the antebellum era.

(62.) Hewlett, Foundation Stone, 74–78. For a more detailed discussion of the views of the committee’s members, see Row, “World without End,” 31.

(63.) Cram was for a time engaged as a consultant, but did not get along with Frohman and was dismissed in 1927. Row, “World without End,” 155, 159, 200, 202, 208, Apps. F and G.

(64.) Although the term “National Cathedral” has been used, both formally and informally, since the time of Satterlee, the official name of the institution is the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. “Washington Cathedral” and “Washington National Cathedral” are other variations. See Bains, “America’s Westminster,” note 3.

(65.) Lux Mundi, a collection of essays edited by Gore, was first published in 1889.

(67.) Frank E. Sugeno, “The Establishmentarian Ideal and the Mission of the Episcopal Church,” Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 53, no. 4 (December, (p.242) 1984): 285–92. See also Ian T. Douglas, Fling Out the Banner! The National Church Ideal and the Foreign Missions of the Episcopal Church (New York: Church Hymnal Corporation, 1996).

(68.) Huntington’s major expressions of this idea were his books The Church Idea: An Essay toward Unity, of 1870, and A National Church, of 1898. His sermon, “The Talisman of Unity,” which was preached in the then recently completed crypt of St. John the Divine in 1899, relates this theme to the cathedral idea (New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1899).

(69.) The four points of the Quadrilateral were scripture, the creeds of the early church, the two “dominically instituted” sacraments (Baptism and the Eucharist), and the “historic episcopate,” that is, the apostolic succession of bishops. This last point has often proven a major barrier to union with denominations that espouse other forms of polity.

(*) American presidents of Episcopal provenance, if not always active affiliation, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries included Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, W. H. Harrison, Tyler, Taylor, Pierce, and Arthur. Theodore Roosevelt, although Dutch Reformed, attended Episcopal services at Oyster Bay with his second wife, and his funeral was held in Christ Church in that town. His cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, served as senior warden of St. James Episcopal Church in Hyde Park. More recently, Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush have been active members of the Episcopal Church.

(70.) David R. Bains, “A National Cathedral? Protestants’ Reception of Washington Cathedral,” presented at the “Legacies and Promise” conference of the Historical Society of the Episcopal Church et al., Williamsburg, Va., June 25, 2007, 5–6. In 1930, economic constraints necessitated the sale of this site and a removal of its memorials to a new “National Church” near the American University campus.

(71.) Ibid., 6; Thomas A. Tweed, America’s Church: The National Shrine and Catholic Presence in the Nation’s Capital (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

(74.) Ibid., 137–38.

(75.) Ibid., 166.

(77.) Ibid., 6–7 and note 16. Wilson’s body was not actually transferred from the crypt to the sarcophagus in the nave until 1956 (12). Wilson’s grandson, Francis B. Sayre Jr., later served as dean of the cathedral and was a powerful public voice on social issues such as civil rights.

(78.) Ibid., 9–10.

(79.) Michael Lampen, “Tales from the Crypt,” Grace Cathedral website, available at https://web.archive.org/web/20021006121630/http://www.gracecathedral.org/enrichment/crypt/cry19970919.shtml.

(80.) Ibid.; Ruth Hendricks Willard and Carol Green Wilson, Sacred Places of San Francisco (Novato, Calif.: Presidio Press, 1985), 37–39.

(81.) D. O. Kelley, History of the Diocese of California from 1849 to 1914 (San Francisco: Bureau of Information and Supply, 1915), App. E.

(82.) St. John the Divine measures 601’ x 124’ and is 232’ tall; the National Cathedral, 517’ x 142’ x 234’; Grace, 329’ x 162’ x 176’. (Dimensions vary according to whether towers are included and other criteria.)

(83.) Though medieval in origin, labyrinths are a fairly new feature in American churches of a variety of denominations, and are used as a means to achieve focus during private meditation. Grace Cathedral has two, one inside and the other in the close.

(p.243) (84.) Hewlett, Foundation Stone, 55–56. Phoebe Hearst was raised in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and later converted to Baha’i. The Hearsts’ son, William Randolph, became one of the most successful and controversial journalists of his era.

(85.) St. Albans was endowed by Harriet Lane Johnston, who was James Buchanan’s niece and served as First Lady during his administration. She later became a serious collector of European art, which she left to the Smithsonian, earning the honorific “First Lady of the National Collection of Fine Arts.” She also endowed a major clinic for children at Johns Hopkins University. Bishop Satterlee conducted her funeral at the National Cathedral in 1903. Hewlett, Foundation Stone, 85, 134.

(86.) The school began to admit nonsingers in 1964, and became coeducational a decade later.

(87.) Marjorie Hunt, The Stone Carvers: Master Craftsmen of Washington National Cathedral (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian, 1999); Robert E. Kendig, The Washington National Cathedral: The Bible in Stone (McLean, Va.: EPM Publications, 1995).

(88.) See, e.g., Kitty Yang, “A Musical History of the Washington National Cathedral, 1893–1998” (DMA thesis, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md., 1998).

(89.) An interesting parallel is the “sacred history” of Quebec embodied in the murals of the Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal.

(90.) Hall, Guide to the Cathedral Church, 44–46. Other bays include those dedicated to the arts, crusaders (broadly defined to include figures such as yellow fever fighter Walter Reed), education, lawyers, “ecclesiastical origins,” historical and patriotic societies, fatherhood, all souls, missionaries, labour [sic], the press, medicine, the religious life, the armed forces, and pilgrims (44–103). These tributes are inclusive, including figures ranging from medieval saints to contemporary secular figures such as Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and Henry Adams (both depicted in the Historical and Patriotic Societies Bay) (63).

(91.) Horatio Potter’s tomb lies behind the high altar of St. John’s, the traditional place for the burial of a cathedral’s founder. Hall, Guide to the Cathedral Church, 62, 138, 151–52. On Satterlee, Hewlett, Foundation Stone, 82.

(92.) Dewey’s disinterment from Arlington Cemetery and the transfer of his remains at the request of his widow to the Cathedral aroused considerable controversy among veterans. Bains, “America’s Westminster,” 8.

(93.) Ibid., 7.

(94.) Michael D. Lampen, The Doors of Paradise (San Francisco, Calif.: Grace Cathedral, 1979).

(*) It is also worth noting that secular structures of the era indulged in this practice. The Chicago Tribune Tower, the great Gothic skyscraper completed in 1925, incorporated, at the request of publisher Robert McCormick, stones from a wide range of historic world structures, including the Great Pyramid, St. Peter’s Basilica, Angkor Wat, Notre Dame and Trondheim cathedrals, Hagia Sophia, and the Great Wall of China. Another, less literal, display of recapitulation is Yale’s Gothic revival Sterling Memorial Library (James Gamble Rogers, 1931), which bears more than a passing resemblance to a cathedral and incorporates carved sequences illustrative of the history of the book and of the university and its setting, The Nebraska State Capitol (1922–32), designed by Cram’s sometime partner Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, has also been likened to a cathedral and is something of a “cosmogram”—that is, a map of the universe—that incorporates extensive Native American symbolism into its iconographic scheme. Lee Lawrie, the German-born sculptor who collaborated with Goodhue on the interior of Cram’s St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Manhattan, was notably involved in the two latter of these projects.

(97.) Bains, “National Cathedral?,” 9. It was not until the 1930s that the National Cathedral began actively to involve non-Episcopalians in its governance and worship.

(99.) For an informed discussion of this notion, see Jeffrey F. Meyer, Myths in Stone: Religious Dimensions of Washington, D. C. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001).

(p.244) (100.) It is worth noting that the Woolworth Building (1913), one of New York’s earliest and most dramatic skyscrapers, was Gothic in its ornamental scheme (though certainly not in its structural principles).

(101.) See Jeanne Halgren Kilde, When Church Became Theatre: The Transformation of Evangelical Architecture and Worship in Nineteenth Century America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).