Posts Tagged ‘Gothic Revival’

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Observing Ascension Day at The Church of the Ascension and Saint Agnes

Today is Ascension Day, a Christian celebration day commemorating Jesus’s ascension into heaven.  According to the Bible, Christ met several times with his disciples during the 40 days after his resurrection to instruct them on how to carry out his teachings. It is believed that on the 40th day he took them to the Mount of Olives, where they watched as he ascended to heaven.  Therefore, Ascension Day occurs ten days before Pentecost and is observed on the 40th day of Easter, which always falls on a Thursday.  However, some churches, particularly in the United States, celebrate it on the following Sunday.

In observance of Ascension Day, on this lunchtime bike ride I stopped by the Church of the Ascension and Saint Agnes, located at 1215 Massachusetts Avenue (MAP) in the Downtown neighborhood of northwest D.C.

The origin of the Church of the Ascension and Saint Agnes dates back to May 7, 1844, when several people who had previously attended services at nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square met to discuss establishing their own parish.  After approval from the diocese, the territory of St. John’s was split between the two churches, formally establishing the Church of the Ascension on March 1, 1845.

After the donation of land on H Street, between 9th and 10th streets, by Parishioner Martha Burnes Van Ness, a prominent local socialite and the wife of banker and future D.C. Mayor John Peter Van Ness, the cornerstone was laid for the church’s new home on September 5, 1844.  Construction of a the Gothic Revival brick building was complete enough to use by December 1844, and the first services were held on December 14th.

During the Civil War there were disagreements within the church. with some parishioners as well as clergy sympathizing with the Confederacy while others were Unionists.  After one such disagreement in which the parish’s bishop asked the church to pray and thank God for recent Union victories and the church’s rector refused, Washington’s Provost Marshall notified the church that the authorities would assume control of the church to prevent a disturbance.  The Church of the Ascension then became a military hospital to house casualties from the war, as did Church of the Epiphany, and Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown.

During the subsequent war years after their church was seized by the government, the parish was without a home. The problem was solved by member William Corcoran, a prominent banker and partner in the firm of Corcoran and Riggs, later known as Riggs Bank. Corcoran offered the use of a building he owned on H Street, between 13th and 14th Streets.  The congregation met there, and would not return to its permanent home until after the conclusion of the war more than three years later.

Within a short period of time after the congregations return to the church, the structure proved too small and not grand enough for what was now one of the most affluent areas of the city.  So after much debate, church leaders decided to erect a new structure. William Corcoran donated the site at the northwest corner of Massachusetts Avenue and 12th Street where the church continues to be located, as well as approximately half of the $205,000 construction costs.

The cornerstone for what is still the church’s current building was subsequently laid on June 9, 1874.  The building is constructed of white marble quarried near Cockeysville, Maryland, with accents of pink Ohio sandstone.  Designed in the Victorian Gothic style, it reaches a height of 74 feet with a 190-foot tower and spire that was visible across much of the city at the time it was built.

After World War I, membership at the Church of the Ascension began to decline, and in 1925 the congregation merged with nearby St. Stephen’s Church to help stabilize the parish.  This worked briefly until the onset of the Great Depression, when a downturn began that lasted through 1947, when the diocese considered selling the building to another congregation.  It was then that the Vestry received a proposal from St. Agnes Episcopal Church to merge.  It accepted and adopted its present name, under which its diverse, urban congregation continues as an active parish in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.

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The Lincoln Statue at the Summer Cottage

In northwest D.C., near the Petworth and Park View neighborhoods (MAP), there is a Gothic Revival-style residence known as President Lincoln’s Summer Cottage.  And there is a statue of its namesake resident on the grounds.  On this lunchtime bike ride I rode there to see it.

The 2,500-pound sculpted bronze statue of President Lincoln and a horse, presumably his favorite horse named Big Bob, was created by sculptor Ivan Schwartz of StudioEIS, who spent months conducting research to ensure the historical accuracy and visual aesthetics of this portrayal of Lincoln and Big Bob.  The statue was financed by Robert H. Smith., and dedicated in February of 2009.

The statue depicts President Lincoln standing next to his horse, who he was seen riding around the grounds of the cottage on April 13, 1865, the day before he was assassinated.  He is presumably either about to embark on or returning from his commute to the White House.  Every morning from April or May through November, Lincoln would make the three-mile, 30-minute commute on horseback down the hill into D.C. , and back again in the evening.  In 2011, staff from the summer cottage tried to reenact his horse ride and it took two hours due to traffic and lights.  That’s typical of D.C. traffic.

In comparison to The Lincoln Memorial, the summer cottage statue’s portrayal of President Lincoln is a much more intimate and personal one rather than a strong, serious figure elevated and looking down at the viewer.  The lifelike statue of a standing  Lincoln is exactly six feet four-and-a-half inches tall, which was the actual height of the 16th President.  So visitors are at eye level with Lincoln.  So step right up to it to get an idea of what it might have been like to stand toe-to-toe with Honest Abe. The hat brings him up to seven feet tall.

Church of the Epiphany

Church of the Epiphany

Dating back to January of 1842 when an organizational meeting was held, and when the first service was conducted later that same month, the Church of the Epiphany has been steeped in history.  Construction of the church’s Gothic Revival building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, began with the laying of the cornerstone the follow year, and was completed in 1844, the same year parish status was achieved.  One of the only remaining pre-Civil War churches in the city, people have been worshipping and praying there every day for over a century and a half.  And the building has stayed much the same over those years, although the surrounding downtown neighborhood has developed considerably from the quiet, tree shaded, and residential neighborhood it was when the church began.  Today, the church’s slim shape and stone façade stand out amongst the towering, modern downtown office buildings which surround it.

Throughout its history, prominent people have always attended and been a part of the Church of the Epiphany.  Before the Civil War, a number of prominent politicians, including future Confederate President Jefferson Davis, were members of the congregation.  After the war broke out, President Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edward Stanton began attending, along with Union service members.   And in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln attended a funeral for Union Army General Frederick Lander at Epiphany.  But the Church of the Epiphany has always had ties to the common man as well.  Between July and December of1862, the building was a temporary hospital, with wooden boards laid across the tops of pews to create beds for the wounded.

During the time since the Civil War, other presidents have come to Epiphany Church as well.  A memorial services was held for slain President William McKinley in 1901, and since 1925, the church has rung its bells in honor of each newly inaugurated president.  President Franklin Delano Roosevelt also attended a service at Epiphany, at Christmas in 1942.

On today’s bike ride, I stopped by the historic Episcopal church, which is located at 1317 G Street in northwest D.C. (MAP), just two blocks from the White House.  And I was please to discover that the church is as relevant today as it has been throughout its history.  Today, the Church of the Epiphany remains an active, urban church that continues to adapt to the ever changing needs of the place where it was planted, with its small parish of about 350 diverse worshipers focused largely on serving, helping and supporting the surrounding homeless community.

Through its brightly colored and welcoming doors, the church houses “The Welcome Table” ministry to feed the hungry.  It also hosts weekly Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and has a licensed addiction counselor and an outreach ministry to assist downtown poor in obtaining information about housing, medical aid, employment and treatment facilities.  The church also operates the Epiphany Mission Center, where meetings and retreats are held.  But the church also ventures out from the building it calls home, with a “Street Church’ ministry that gathers at Franklin Square Park for worship and lunch with around 40-60 downtown poor and visitors every Tuesday.  Through these and other programs, the Church of the Epiphany ensures that it is not just part of history, but will continue to make history as well.

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