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New St. Mary’s

New St. Mary's Church has been described as architect Richard Upjohn's "masterpiece in stone." The graceful rise of the spire, soaring 175 feet into the air above the streets of Burlington, is certainly one of the building's great features. But the overall appearance of the structure and its elegant, stately simplicity is St. Mary's true strength.

 

The construction and appearance of St. Mary's is due in large part to one man: George Washington Doane, Second Bishop of New Jersey. Born in Trenton on May 27, 1799, Doane was the eldest son of Jonathan Doane, a master-carpenter and draftsman. The senior Doane was the architect of New Jersey's first State House, constructed between 1790 and 1792. Educated at private schools in New York City and Geneva, New York, G. W. Doane graduated from Union College in Schenectady in 1818. Originally intending a career in law, he soon abandoned this pursuit to embrace a calling to the priesthood. He was presented as a candidate for Holy Orders in the Diocese of New Jersey in 1819 and pursued studies for the ministry under the direction of Bishop John Henry Hobart of New York. Ordained a priest in 1823, Doane was appointed to a professorship at Trinity College in 1824. In 1828, he left the academy to take a position as assistant minister of Trinity Church, Boston, and two years later was named rector of that parish. The Diocese of New Jersey elected him to the episcopate in 1832 and he accepted the rectorship of St. Mary's on October 1, 1833.

 

After having greatly enlarged Old St. Mary's (built 1703), giving it its present cruciform shape in 1835, Bishop Doane decided that the only alternative to further accommodate the growing parish was to build a new church: "The present venerable structure, doubled in size since my connection with the parish, is now too small, and will not bear enlargement. I hope soon to lay the corner stone of the new edifice." A follower of the Oxford Movement, which advocated that the Anglican Church return to a traditional "catholic" expression of the Christian faith, Doane looked to England for advice on the design of his new structure. At first, he was intent on using St. John's Church in Shottesbrook, Berkshire, England as the model for St. Mary's. Endorsed by the Oxford Architectural Society, Shottesbrook was considered a "bad model" by the rival Cambridge Camden Society. The model was abandoned and the architect prepared a "native" design which was nonetheless influenced by the Shottesbrook church.

 

Although John Notman had been selected by Doane to serve as architect for the Chapel of the Holy Innocents at St. Mary's Hall on the Riverbank and for Doane's private residence Riverside, he turned to Richard Upjohn for the church commission. Upjohn's earlier commissions included Christ Church, Brooklyn (1841-42); Church of the Holy Communion, New York City (1844-45); and Grace Church, Brooklyn (1847-58) among other works in Maine, Massachusetts and New York. Perhaps his most famous structure is Trinity Church, Wall Street, New York City, begun in 1839 and completed in 1846. The Reverend Dr. Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright, Doane's successor at Trinity Church, Boston, was already familiar with Upjohn in New England and was responsible for employing the architect for the New York project.

 

No doubt, Doane was as impressed with Upjohn as was Dr. Wainwright. Furthermore, Upjohn had grown increasingly traditional and orthodox in his faith, a characteristic that found expression through his architecture. Doane obtained Upjohn just as he was ascending to notoriety. The St. Mary's commission, despite its attendant controversy, brought even greater renown to the English draftsman. Contemporaneous to the St. Mary's commission, Upjohn was working on designs for Christ Church, Raleigh, North Carolina (1848-54); St. James's Church, New London, Connecticut (1847-50); and St. Paul's, Buffalo, New York (1850-51). In addition to his prolific work, Upjohn is credited with the founding of the American Institute of Architects in 1857. He served as its first president, a position he held for nineteen years.

 

"Gothic architecture is, in the highest sense, the only Christian architecture; that during the period in which it flourished, our Country churches are, in their way, as perfect models as our Cathedrals," wrote Messrs. Neale and Webb, English church critics. With St. Mary's and a few other churches constructed contemporaneously, the English Gothic Revival was introduced into the United States. Gothic and Renaissance Gothic architecture quickly became the preferred architectural style for churches and colleges. Doane and Upjohn were at the forefront of this movement. The fact that "Country churches" were considered "in a way" equal to cathedrals was not forgotten by Doane in contemplating the design for St. Mary's -- while it was a "parish" church; it was also intended as Doane's cathedral.

 

Upjohn's earliest original designs for St. Mary's were dated September 1846. The estimated cost of the new building was $20,000. Construction began in late 1846—the cornerstone being laid on November 17, 1846—and continued through 1848. At the laying of the cornerstone, Doane was assisted by the bishop of North Carolina and a host of clergy from throughout New Jersey and neighboring dioceses. In his episcopal address of 1847, he reserved commentary about the church's construction until "the top stone shall be brought forth with shoutings."

 

Financial support for the new church flagged but construction continued apace without serious impediment. Stone quarried from central New Jersey was brought to the site and hoisted into place by a machine created for such purpose which was on loan from Trinity Church, New York. The foundations of the structure rest on enormous boulders ten to fifteen feet below ground level, prompting Doane to write: "[There is] Nothing that has been done in [new St. Mary's Church], that has not been done for perpetuity. It will stand, while any human structure stands; a rock, upon 'The Rock.'" On the evening of April 27, 1854, a storm, "remarkable for its violence," arose and lightening struck the spire of the church, then about three-fourths of its proposed height. "Blessed by Our God," wrote Doane, for "Our Holy and Beautiful House was not burned up." With the exception of the displacement of a few stones, no harm was done and work progressed.

 

The building was consecrated by Bishop Doane on Thursday, August 10, 1854. The occasion brought together "so great a company of Clergy and Laity, from other Dioceses, as well as from our own," Doane recalled. "You may judge, with what an eager joy, we met the Psalmist's challenge: 'O come let us worship, and fall down, and kneel, before the Lord our Maker. For He is the Lord our God; and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand. O worship the Lord, in the beauty of holiness.'" Ceremonies and services were scheduled throughout the day. Thomas Milnor, Esq., who was senior warden, presented Bishop Doane with a request for consecration on behalf of the vestry. The Rev. Mr. Finch, president of the diocesan Standing Committee, read the sentence of consecration. Doane summed up his sentiments: "From age to age, [New St. Mary's Church] will remain, I trust, a monument of the faith, and a temple for the worship, of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church."

 

St. Mary's, when completed, was a cruciform church, "correctly" oriented with the chancel to the east. The tower and spire, of Upjohn's own design, impart an elegance to the exterior. The nave measures 95 feet deep by 23 feet wide. The chancel is 35 feet deep and the transepts measure 32 feet by 23 feet. Its architectural style is described as Early English First-Pointed Gothic. Doane, in his 1855 episcopal address, wrote of the church: "It does honour to the eminent architect, Mr. Richard Upjohn. For solidity and durableness, the building can hardly be surpassed. Its promise of perpetuity is as great as can be predicated, of any work of man." His words would prove prophetic.

 

Only minor modifications were introduced to New St. Mary's over the years from its consecration until 1976. Figurative stained glass windows were introduced, chancel rails were altered and additional interior appointments were added. On May 11, 1951, the roof was again struck by lightening and a small fire caused damage.

 

On April 15, Maundy Thursday of Holy Week, 1976, a ceiling lamp, which had been redirected from its original position, slowly began to heat the ancient and dried wood of the roof rafters. A fire smoldered for several hours before the eerie orange glow was noticed by a passing patrolman about 4:30 a.m. By that time, the interior of the structure was engulfed in flames. The fire was not brought under control until almost four hours later. By that time, the only features remaining of Upjohn's masterpiece were the walls, the magnificent spire, and elements of interior woodwork. Miraculously, the bells in the steeple remained in place and relatively unharmed by the blaze.

 

Under the guidance of architect Richard Murphy and the Reverend Canon James J. Greene, St. Mary's nineteenth Rector, the parish began to reconstruct the New Church. Although not an exact restoration of the church as it existed previous to the fire, St. Mary's was restored sympathetically to its earlier appearance. Stone imported from Germany replaced the flooring stone originally quarried from New York. The arrangement of the black walnut pews was modified for liturgical and space purposes. The wall sconces, now electrified, are exact reproductions of the original gas-jet sconces that provided the only light in the nave and transepts for almost sixty years. The lectern, a thank offering from the friends of the Rev. James Greene, dates to the nineteenth century and has carved figures of the four Evangelists--Mathew, Mark, Luke and John. The 1888 Litany Desk also survived the fire.

 

The greatest changes occurred in the chancel. The pipe organ, destroyed in the fire, was not replaced neither were the choir stalls. The altar rail, the fourth in the history of the church, is a recreation of Upjohn's original design. Gone are the ornate polychrome painting and stenciling as is the bishop's cathedra or throne. However, the wrought-iron rood screen, first placed at the chancel steps in 1893, survived the fire and was reinstalled. Other original elements that were cleaned and reinstalled are the base of the pulpit and the gas-fired corona, designed by English artisans and lit on festive occasions. Some of the original English Minton encaustic tiles, including those bearing the symbols of the four Evangelists and that of the Pelican, were cleaned and replaced. The top of the altar is the only survivor of the original. It bears the scorch marks of the fire.

 

Original stenciling is evident on the ceiling of the South Porch. The baptismal font, made of Caen stone, also survived the fire. The eight sides of the font bear alternately in panels four angels with scrolls and four emblems. On the scrolls are the words, "By one Spirit we are all baptized into one body." The emblems are the Hart drinking, the Pelican in her piety, the Lamb (Agnus Dei) and the Dove. Memorial tablets to the founders of St. Mary's, the Reverend George Keith and John Talbot, and another to the Right Reverend William Henry Odenheimer, Third Bishop of New Jersey, were cleaned and reinstalled.

 

New St. Mary's was reconsecrated on June 11, 1979. The restoration of the structure exceeded one million dollars. In 1986, New St. Mary's was named a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service.