From the Undercroft to the Chancel, Again
Archival research consists of long
stretches of accretion of information, punctuated by exciting avalanches
of discovery. Shadyside
Church’s Acting Senior Pastor, Reverend Jim Tinnemeyer, has been present
at two such avalanches of architectural revelation.
The first involved the surfacing of drawings related to the end of
the chancel design process for the church’s 1938 sanctuary remodeling. (See
Undercroft Find) The second avalanche provided much
wider historical revelation, but in this article, we will look at
documents related to the beginning of that remodeling process.
Jim’s recent find, once again in the
church undercroft, is a metal file cabinet that had been pushed aside with
its doors against a wall. The
contents consist of church records dating to its founding, apparently
accumulated as research for the 1966 Centennial History of Shadyside
Church. Some material from the
1980s indicates it was accessed in the last three decades.
Shadyside Chancel, J. Steen, architect 1930 or before
of Carnegie Mellon University Architecture Archives
A number of architectural documents
surfaced, including two preliminary designs of the sanctuary chancel from
the architect, Wilson Eyre & McIlvaine of Philadelphia.
They both eliminate the then-existing preaching platform and open
the space formerly occupied by the pipe organ and offices.
Neither design was adopted as shown, but there are some tantalizing
clues on one copy of one drawing that point toward the exquisite chancel
we know today.
Full size renderings of these two
options were in the cabinet along with more formal architectural drawings
that show the adopted design. These
two renderings appear to be a step between a drawing (above, of 1930 or earlier)
from the James Steen architecture firm (Pittsburgh) and the arrangement as
built. ** (See
Date of Origin) Several sets of letter size monochrome copies were
also found, along with documents explaining the proposed architectural
Shadyside Chancel, rectangular apse, polychrome wall, wooden furnishings,
Wilson Eyre & McIvaine, architect, 1936
Both alternatives include the low,
open chancel, limestone walls, and leveled nave floor of the Steen
proposal. Steen’s drawing
does not seem to show a pipe organ. Both
of the Wilson Eyre alternatives show tower-like structures for the organ
at either side. The towers
claim a large portion of the newly-opened chancel.
Neither alternative shows the organ console.
Both indicate a low chancel rail (which was adopted).
Shadyside Chancel, semicircular apse, monochrome wall, stone furnishings,
Wilson Eyre & McIvaine, architect, 1936
The most significant change from the
Steen proposal is the addition of a raised apse to terminate the chancel.
Between Wilson Eyre’s two alternatives, a significant difference
is the form of the apse – one, rectangular with a polychrome wall; the
other, semicircular with a domical ceiling and monochrome walls.
It is interesting to note that the apse as we know it combines the
two – semicircular, yet polychromatic in the form of the stunning
Sheffler mosaic. The
rectangular version shows a wooden communion table, located perhaps just
outside apse. The semicircular
version indicates a stone table within the apse, as built.
Stone seem to be shown for the chancel rail, pulpit and lectern.
For the subdued-color semicircular apse design, the rendering
itself is monochrome. (It also
has a rather awkward depiction of the circular/domical apse interior,
which might relate to a straight and curved apse wall.)
Both of Wilson Eyre’s proposed
chancels seem quite crowed. The
organ “towers” only allow room for a choir stall on the pulpit side.
In both versions, the only direct access to the chancel is a
stairway behind the lectern from the undercroft.
When a church does not employ a procession, the worship leaders
often enter the chancel directly rather than through the nave.
In our present chancel there are entrances on each side (one of
which connects to an undercroft stairway).
In the early alternatives, the pastors ascending the stairs might
have appeared to be levitating through the floor of the chancel.
A more practical problem would have been the safety hazard of this
Wilson Eyre Chancel, showing stairway behind lectern from chancel to
Today’s chancel stems from the Steen
design, with important elements culled from each Wilson Eyre alternative.
A crucial feature, the intermediate arch between the great arch at
the east end of the nave and the apse, seems to appear on a pencil-marked,
small copy of the semicircular apse drawing.
Eyre Chancel with pencil marking (emphasized here, enlarged view below ),
Chancel as built
If we take the pencil line as showing
its author’s intent drawn to approximate scale, the intermediate arch
pushes the organ spaces to each side, effectively widening the chancel. If
the principal arch recedes a bit toward the apse, space is made for side
entrances, like those that exist today.
– pencil-marked copy of semicircular apse chancel
lines emphasized here for clarity
There are intriguing, if ambiguous,
pencil marks in the apse. A
tentative interpretation is that they depict a reduction in the size of
the apse – closer in proportion to the apse we have, which (aside from
its more pleasing proportions) allows more room for choir stalls.
We should keep in mind that the high regard for excellence in
worship music at Shadyside Church is a long tradition, extending from its
very earliest days.
There are also some pencil marks at the right side of the intermediate arch space. We might speculate that they indicate the organ console. They correspond in location, although not in size, to the present console. Neither Wilson Eyre alternative shows a baptismal font. Both have a lectern with the traditional Eagle, emblematic of the Evangelist John, as the reading desk support. The actual lectern is an inspired design in which the symbolic beasts of all four Evangelists support the Bible. (See Beasts of the Evangelists)
Wilson Eyre Chancel, St. John Eagle lectern, actual lectern
A case can be made that it was an
architect who made these actual pencil emendations.
The intermediate arch clearly starts equidistant from center on
both sides. It also rises to
the same height as the arch depicted on the rendering.
These might be intentional design features and they closely
approximate the chancel as executed.
Another element of the information
avalanche is a plan view of the chancel that is very close to the executed
design. We note that it
finally indicates a baptismal font (octagonal in shape) with two alternate
locations. The location in the
north transept (almost like a chapel) is less compatible with the Reformed
tradition of Baptism as a corporate act.
The proposed alternate and the actual location, near the lectern,
both place the celebration closer to the center of the gathered
congregation, a continuing reminder of the sacrament even when it is not
Detail, plan view, Wilson Eyre Chancel, 1937 ***
Following the architectural documents
that describe a new chancel for the church*** confirms the wisdom of Marty
Powell, long-time Shadyside member and respected architect.
During the recent Building
Community capital campaign, Marty reviewed early architectural ideas
with Session. He advised the
elders, “If there are elements you don’t like in a preliminary design,
don’t be alarmed. The final
result almost never looks like it.”