On a bike ride along the river, my friend and I took a detour to see a project his church has embarked upon. We jumped a low fence and walked into another place and time. St. James-the-Less parish church stands amid a sea of stone crosses, a copy of an English country church built in the thirteenth century. Construction began in 1846 and the vestry hoped the church would serve as an oasis for both wealthy and working classes. This vision to build a medieval-style church in the nineteenth-century began a movement to build English Gothic churches across the American landscape.
Today, its thick stone walls and vertical bell tower stand in slight decay awaiting a new moment of glory. The wood pews and elaborate high alter speak of exquisite craftsmanship and its pastoral setting continues to be an oasis from the rough streets. When a school re-opens on the surrounding property, hopefully new life will restore the church.
I’m sure there are “famous” people associated with the church. Department store magnate John Wanamaker had his family crypt built at the edge of the property. A Civil War officer or two or more are buried in the churchyard. But these aren’t the stories I’d want to know. I want to know about the craftsmen who spent years creating this unexpected treasure. Who were they? Perhaps one day their story will be told.
Do you know of other amazing historic churches? Tell us about them.