An Apsidal Appendage

 

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The existing church building replaced the second (Gothic) structure in 1890.  The present chapel and parlor followed immediately and rest on the site of the first church building.  The space between saw the first major alteration in 1937.  Careful workmanship and weathering hide the fact that the apse is an addition. 

An apse is a projection from the end of a building – usually a church  and usually from the “liturgical east” end.  We often think of an apse as being semicircular (as ours is) and having a half-dome ceiling (as ours does).  Nothing in its definition requires this.  In fact, medieval English apses tended to be rectangular, while their French counterparts were half round.

Liturgical east?  Tradition orients churches so that worshippers face the rising sun.  When tradition is broken, the direction the congregation looks becomes liturgical east.  At Shadyside, liturgy and compass coincide.

Coincident with the apse addition, another major change occurred in the worship space.  The space our Chancel Choir now occupies held different music makers before 1937.  Organ pipes arrayed across the front, towering behind a central pulpit.  Our familiar deep chancel was not there.

An apse is where bishops sit, when in attendance.  Presbyterians don’t hold much truck with bishops, so at Shadyside the apse surrounds the communion table.  The inside wall displays Rudolf Scheffler’s stunning mosaic of the Transfigured Christ, who performs our episcopal role.  Communion and honoring the Savior would seem  apt apse acts.

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