A Shadysider born
after the mid 20’s remembers only our present sanctuary.
In 1937-38, the church undertook a major remodeling of the space,
and just a handful of photos exist of the former arrangement.
The sanctuary as built in 1890 was very much of its time, in fact
quite similar to the predecessor church.
Sanctuary After 1937
(all 1890 interior views courtesy of Shepley, Bullfinch, Richardson &
mid-nineteenth century, the two predominant sanctuary arrangements were
the nave-chancel and the meetinghouse.
The former, an ancient arrangement, is well suited to worship that
is liturgical, processional and centered on the eucharistic rite.
Clergy perform the rite within the chancel and the congregation
observes from a long, narrow nave. By
comparison, the meetinghouse shape is adapted for preaching and hearing.
The room is wide and the depth of the room short – to minimize
the distance from pulpit to listener.
incompatible trends – revivalism and a liturgical movement – combined
to create a worship space not terribly different than a theater.
The Second Great Awakening in the early 1800s was driven by
emotional preaching from a stage-like structure with the people arrayed
around it. Conversion of lost
souls predominated over participatory worship.
Later in the century, some congregations came to consider this
insufficiently sophisticated for their needs and status.
Churches favored more structured worship orders with greater
reliance on music and ritual, while still stressing preaching.
A theater arrangement
resulted. A stage with a
modest pulpit offered the preacher a prominent platform, with freedom of
movement. A pipe organ and
choir or quartet served as back-drop and satisfied the desire for more
formal music. The seating was
arrayed in a semi-circle in a proportion neither narrow as a nave nor
broad as a meetinghouse. The
auditorium floor was often sloped up from front-to-back to promote good
visibility and hearing from each seat. (1)
1875 Pews & Chancel
churches of 1875 and 1890 both made use of these features.
A variation on the semi-circle, the 1875 seats were set out on an
octagonal pattern. They sat on
three distinct levels, giving the sight line advantages of a sloping
floor. Shadyside retained a
meetinghouse proportion, with its width nearly twice the depth, unlike
some churches choosing theatre seating.
This shape was touted in local newspaper accounts, which also noted
that all seats faced the preaching position.
1875 Floor Plan
The diagram here was
to aid in the process of purchasing pews.
Although still a common practice in the late 1800s, many of the
churches who chose theatre-style sanctuaries discontinued it (and some
later resumed it). It is
interesting to note that pew prices at Shadyside ranged from $10 to $150
(a few at the back were free), the choice seats were two-thirds back on
the center aisle.
And so, while the
original seating arrangement of the 1890 structure (Shepley, Rutan &
The more reflective
color of the inside of the great arches enhanced natural light.
We do not have information on the interior color of the church.
The walls appear to be plastered, painted and perhaps stenciled.
It seems doubtful that the church was as vibrant
1890 Wall detail
The focal point of
the sanctuary – the stage – must have seemed dark, certainly compared
to the clerestory and transepts. There
was no significant light under the front arch and dark wood was used for
the stage and paneling. The
organ pipes may have been the only relief in this view.
Sanctuary toward entrance(west)
A close inspection of
the photos indicates that the sanctuary floor may have been sloped only in
the section toward the entrance. (The
column bases appear to be the same height at the front and the back of the
central area.) This is
logical, since the elevation of the stage would provide line-of-sight to
the seating in the main section of the sanctuary.
Sanctuary door detail
It might surprise
some to see pointed arches above the round arch doors at the corners of
the sanctuary. It is true that
this shape is mainly associated with Gothic architecture.
However the door arrangement is not an anachronism, as pointed
arches were known and used during the Romanesque era (1000 – 1150 AD).
Were the architects striving for variety, confident in their
1890 Interior frieze and modillions Corresponding
detailing of the original sanctuary was slightly more elaborate that the
remodeled one. Visible on the
walls above the great arches are bands of moldings and a series of
modillions. These modillions
correspond to an analogous feature on the exterior of the tower.
The carved grotesques (alternating faces and foliage) are similarly
located below the window arcade.
Sanctuary Chancel detail
A somewhat later
photo indicates some changes in the stage platform.
A new organ is apparent (the former one having been brought from
the previous building) with clearly Romanesque detailing to match the
church. The stage front finish
has been changed from bead board to raised panels.
A more imposing pulpit (possibly built-in) replaces a somewhat
modest pulpit/lectern. The
centrality of the preaching position is maintained.
A change is also
noted in the communion table. The
original, located on the floor in front of the stage, has four simple
legs. The later table,
similarly located, has eight legs. A
low rail or modesty screen can be seen to either side of the communion
table in the older photo. Inside
this rail are ten chairs immediately in front of the stage, presumably for
Church Elders. The rails and
chairs are absent in the later picture.
The location of the baptismal font cannot be discerned with
certainty in either photo.
We are fortunate to
have a commentary on this photo from the late Dr. Hugh Thomson Kerr, Jr.,
professor at Princeton Theological Seminary and son of Hugh Thomson Kerr,
pastor of Shadyside from 1912 to 1945. (2)
In about 1981, Dr. Kerr, Jr., wrote:
The old picture of
the inside of the Church prior to 1938, is especially meaningful to me for
I grew up in this Church and knew it inside and out!
My guess is that the photo was 1917-1918, as indicated by the two
“service flags.” One hangs
over the central pulpit and was, of course, red, white and blue – the
blue (not showing up in the photo) was made up of about 100 stars for the
enlisted men and women. The flag on the far right contained a few gold
stars on a white panel with a very large red background.
Over the choir loft are five flags.
arbors and potted ferns, were always put up for the “commencement”
exercises of the Sunday School, probably in May.
Children and teachers sat in the front row of pews and came up in
and through the wicket gates to receive citations, awards, Bibles, etc.
My father always preached a special children’s sermon, much to
The organist sat
with his back to the congregation, except for the sermon.
The heads and shoulders of choir and organist were visible to the
congregation, so they were very much “on the spot.”
In those days it was a quartette.
There were doors
to the pulpit area, one behind the American flag to the minister’s
study, and the other behind the gold service flag to the choir dressing
and music room. But, there was
also a door from this music room directly to the choir loft.
And there was a small door just to the right of the organ, hidden
within the wooden panel, that led into the organ machinery – a place
that fascinated small boys. The
organ pipes were dull gold in color, and bets were sometimes waged, I used
to hear, as to the exact number.
Note the two
eagles on either side of the small register of pipes.
The eagle can be the symbol for John the Fourth Evangelist, a
general emblem of the soaring intermediary between earth and heaven, an
image of the fugitive human soul, or, in
note the refurbishing of the sanctuary in 1919, mainly the addition of the
Wallace H. Rowe memorial narthex screen and the marble laid aisles.
Since the aisles in the photo are obviously carpet, we can fix the
date of the picture as sometime before 1919 and probably either 1917 or
observation that the musicians were “on the spot” points up what has
what has been seen both as an advantage and problem with the arrangement.
The prominent position of the choir and organist suited the growing
mid-nineteenth century emphasis on music.
Through much of the twentieth century, a skepticism about
“performance” in worship moved choirs away from front and center.
(In some quarters, this has reversed again, with praise bands
playing and singing from stages in “contemporary” worship.)
And so, for the
present building’s first half century, Shadyside’s sanctuary had many
features of the theater style arrangement.
These were also present in the predecessor church.
By the third and fourth decades of the twentieth century, ideas
about worship space were changing in the
at worship today
in 1937-38. (4) That change
placed a greater specific emphasis on worship in both Word and Sacrament.
Four specific liturgical centers (pulpit, lectern, table and font)
are in prominent view. It
accords well with the present order of worship, increased frequency of
communion and high standard of preaching.
In fact, a case can be made that the architecture has influenced
worship as well as responded to it.
Dr. Kerr letter to Shadyside’s newsletter, ca. 1981
See “Building The House Of God” Elbert
M. Conover The Methodist
Book Concern 1928
(5) SBRA is the
successor firm to Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge and to H. H. Richardson