The Romanesque Revival: Religion, Politics, and Transnational Exchange/The Makers of Trinity Church in the City of Boston

By Williams, Peter W. | Anglican and Episcopal History, September 2005 | Go to article overview

The Romanesque Revival: Religion, Politics, and Transnational Exchange/The Makers of Trinity Church in the City of Boston


Williams, Peter W., Anglican and Episcopal History


KATHLEEN CURRAN. The Romanesque Revival: Religion, Politics, and Transnational Exchange. University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003. Pp. xxvii + 364, bibliography, index, black and white illustrations, color plates. $80.00.

JAMES F. O'GORMAN, ED. The Makers of Trinity Church in the City of Boston. Amherst and Boston, Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts Press, 2004. Pp. xv + 206, index, illustrations, color plates. $39.95.

Der Rundbogenstil is not a term that ordinarily springs trippingly from the tongues of students of Anglican history, but it is one of which we ought to become aware. Meaning literally "round-arched style," it refers more specifically to the Romanesque revival that began in early nineteenth-century Germany and spread, as Kathleen Curran narrates, throughout England and the United States in subsequent decades. Although never as popular as the more or less contemporaneous Gothic revival, especially among Anglicans, its origins and popularity, as Curran learnedly demonstrates, are important keys to understanding the circulation of religious and cultural ideas during this era.

The original rationale for der Rundbogenstil, which in the usage of the day included not just the medieval Romanesque proper but architectural features extending from the early Christian era to the beginnings of the Italian Renaissance, was formulated by the German theorist Heinrich Hubsch and spread throughout the European world by the polymath Christian Carl Josias von Bunsen, who may be familiar to Anglican scholars as the subject of one of the articles in Essays and Reviews. Although Hubsch and others argued for the latter-day use of this ancient style on a variety of grounds, including the modern-sounding notion that form should reveal function, the most powerful appeal to many churchmen and lay patrons was the identification of the style with the early Christian community, before issues of ecclesiastical power had sundered Christendom into its mutually antagonistic components. In pre-Bismarckian Germany it inspired both Roman Catholic Ludwig I's rebuilding of Munich as well as the grand-scale enhancements of Berlin and its suburbs by Friedrich Wilhelm III and IV, who promoted the unification of Protestantism within their own Prussia, but aimed at a larger reunification of Christianity based on the primitive Christian principles illustrated in their favorite architectural style.

This little-known story is of considerable interest in itself, but has Anglican implications as well. Germans were interested in church building and reform programs in England and Scotland, and English broad churchmen-especially Thomas Arnold and his coterie of fellow "Germano-Coleridgeans" based at Trinity College, Cambridge-found Bunsen and his ideas extremely congenial. Through these German contacts, the Romanesque came to be associated in England and America with opposition to the Gothic favored by the Oxford and, later, AngloCatholic parties, and also became the style of choice for many oi the dissenting groups now attaining middle-class status and wishing to express themselves architecturally on a monumental scale in urban settings.

In the United States, the Romanesque revival was initially promoted by the first cadre to study at German universities, and who returned eager to promote a new approach to culture. In Prussia, education, charity, and religion all came under the purview of the Kultusministerium, for which the Rundbogenslil was the semi-official style. As a result several of the earliest American public libraries and museums were built in the Romanesque mode, including that peculiar center of the Smithsonian, James Renwick, Jr.'s "Castle" on the Mall. The style began to appear in a religious context first in Protestant churches, such as Richard Upjohn's chapel at Bowdoin College. Congregationalist Leonard Woods, the president of Bowdoin at the time, had been influenced strongly by the German-import Vermittlungsthelogie, as well as by the seeminglyomnipresent Bunsen. …

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