OTHER PITTSBURGH LANTERNS


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The defining architectural feature of Shadyside Church is the lantern.  This element (derived from Boston ’s Trinity Church ) spawned many church lanterns in our region.  I can think of at least seven and we will consider four of them here.

Other lanterns followed closely on the heels of Shadyside Presbyterian (1890), and some were near neighbors.  Christ Methodist (Aiken Avenue, 1893) made their tower octagonal, a softening of our square shape.  Bellefield Presbyterian’s 1896 tower approaches circular, with sixteen facets (a hexadecagon!).  Both churches added gabled dormers and surface ornament, accounting for their decidedly Victorian appearance.

Trinity Reformed in Wilkinsburg is the most compact of our subjects.  Belying the austerity one might expect of that denomination, its ornament includes some non-functional buttresses.  On the slopes above Lawrenceville, St. Augustine ’s Church (1899) has a lantern above the “crossing” of its cruciform plan.  The photo shows a round apse in the foreground, which like ours, houses the chancel.

Aside from fashion, what accounts for the appeal of the lantern?  Light.  In eleventh century Romanesque churches, small windows made for dark interiors.  Where a lantern was used (like Spain ’s Old Salamanca Cathedral), natural light could illuminate the center of the nave.  By the nineteenth century, structural techniques permitted large windows in the walls.  The lantern’s clerestory windows, however, eliminate the cavernous dark volume of a conventional roof.  The elevation introduces an indirect light and a worshipful ambience.

A second appeal of the lantern concerns proportion of the worship space.  A lantern works best when the room it tops is nearly square or nearly round.  This shape gathers the people close – and is sympathetic to a Protestant emphasis on participation.  Participation, illumination and fashion help explain Pittsburgh ’s embrace of the lantern.

  

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