Gothic Arches, Latin Crosses: Anti-Catholicism and American Church Designs in the Nineteenth Century

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Gothic Arches, Latin Crosses: Anti-Catholicism and American Church Designs in the Nineteenth Century. By Ryan K. Smith. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 2006. Pp. xiv, 224. $55.00 clothbound; $19.95 paperback.)

Seen on millions of necklaces and along roadsides throughout the land, the Latin cross is the pre-eminent symbol of Christianity in the United States. For many Americans, a cross surmounting a structure with pointed-arch (Gothic) windows filled with stained glass constitutes the iconic image of a church. The ubiquity of these symbols today makes it difficult to recall that in the early nineteenth century most Protestant denominations regarded the display of crosses and the presence of items such as candlesticks and flowers on communion tables as Roman Catholic affectations. In Gothic Arches, Latin Crosses: Anti-Catholicism and American Church Designs In the Nineteenth Century, Ryan K. Smith traces the often acrimonious process by which Protestants adopted features of Catholic church design and worship settings as their own. Counter-intuitively, the context for these appropriations was not ecumenical but an era of virulent anti-Catholicism.

Dr. Smith is assistant professor of history at Virginia Commonwealth llniversity. This concise, well-written book is based on his doctoral dissertation at the University of Delaware (2002). Smith argues that American Protestants adopted Catholic iconography in response to a complex set of circumstances including the rapid and highly visible expansion of Roman Catholicism in the middle decades of the nineteenth century, appreciation of the roles emotion and the senses can play in directing the attention of congregants towards God, and broad aspirations among Americans for cultural refinement and material comfort. Chapters dedicated to "The Cross," "The Gothic," and "The Flowers," provide case studies of Protestant appropriations of Catholic imagery: use of the Latin cross, construction of Gothic Revival churches, and the embeUishment of worship services with flowers, candles, and robed choirs. …