Magazine article Insight on the News

American Spirit: From the Old Ship Meeting House to the Crystal Cathedral, Churches Reflect the Country's Core Values. (Architecture)

Magazine article Insight on the News

American Spirit: From the Old Ship Meeting House to the Crystal Cathedral, Churches Reflect the Country's Core Values. (Architecture)

Article excerpt

In her new book, Churches, cultural historian Judith Dupre of Mamaroneck, N.Y., portrays 59 edifices from around the world, all on full-color plates with floor plans and interior and exterior views. Her choices for this country's houses of worship vary from the tall granite towers of the Salt Lake City Temple, the spiritual home of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to the black-paneled Rothko chapel in Houston, whose creator, Mark Rothko, committed suicide before its completion.

Most telling of America's core values, writes Dupre, is the Old Ship Meeting House, a venerable Unitarian building in Hingham, Mass. Formerly a Puritan church built in the 17th century, its basic, simple style reflects the indomitable spirit that settled this country and the way Americans perceive themselves as plain, hardworking folk.

Both business and worship were conducted in such meetinghouses, which were stark alternatives to Baroque European churches from which Americans had fled. God's word, not stained glass or sculpted images, was their way of communicating with God.

The 18th century saw construction of additional plain buildings, such as the Meetinghouse at Sabbathday Lake, Maine, built by the Shakers. This Protestant sect, whose community at Sabbath-day Lake was founded in 1783, shaped the future of American design. Their clean-limbed chairs, chests, built-in cupboards and oval boxes exuded clarity, forthrightness and efficiency, all hallmarks of American design.

Churches were springing up all over the American landscape by the 19th century. One of those was the Great Auditorium, a huge, clunky Methodist chapel in Ocean Grove, N.J., a beachfront town 60 miles from Manhattan. These were places where worship and play combined in the pursuit of holiness. Gatherings were known as camp meetings, or open-air religious gatherings where participants camped for weeks in tents pitched around a central worship area. …

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