ROMANESQUE –THE PRESBYTERIAN GOTHIC


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During architectural tours of our church, an interesting question sometimes arises.  Why did so many Presbyterian churches, 125 years ago, especially around Pittsburgh , choose Romanesque over Gothic?  The concentration of Presbyterians here answers the Pittsburgh aspect.  The old quip says, Western Pennsylvania is where Presbyterians are densest.  Three reasons help account for the Romanesque preference:  a measured response to competition, a reaction against perceived “Romish” influence, and a desire to return to early Church precedents.

Nineteenth century Presbyterian leaders worried that young people were defecting to the Episcopalians.  They blamed a return of Anglican emphasis on high-church worship in an appropriate (Gothic) setting.  Presbyterians wanted something more ethereal and stylish than the austere meetinghouse or symmetrical Georgian box.  Romanesque structures provided a compromise short of the over-elaborate Gothic.

Gothic architecture had dominated the medieval (Roman) church for almost four centuries leading up to the Protestant Reformation.  Rejection of Roman Catholic (and Anglican) influence led some congregations to reject their church design.  In a touch of irony, many ethnic German Catholic parishes here also erected Romanesque Revival buildings.

Some in the Reformed tradition sought a return to the “primitive Church.”  Those familiar with the sources of Romanesque – ancient Rome and Byzantium - may have associated it with the origins of the Church.  Roman basilicas were early Christian gathering places, after synagogues and house churches.  With the fall of Rome , the seat of the empire and the church moved to Constantinople .  Eastern influences affected the development of the basilica with a distinctive Byzantine flair, later translated to the Romanesque.

The appeal of the fashionable Richardsonian Romanesque Revival cannot be discounted.  Whatever the reasons, Pittsburgh was blessed with many round arch churches – eight in the East End alone.  Shadyside is blessed with one of the best.

 Here are some Pittsburgh Romanesque Revival churches, not all of them Presbyterian.

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