Church Architecture


Trinity Episcopal Church ArchitectIn preparation for its 250th anniversary in 1996, Trinity Episcopal Church in Staunton, Virginia, hired Frazier Associates to prepare a historic structures report on the church property.  The present Gothic-Revival church building, constructed in 1855, is the third church to be built on the site.  The existing church is listed on the National Register and has a notable collection of Tiffany stained-glass windows.  The site consists of an entire city block and includes a large parish hall (c.1872 & 1924), a rectory (c.1872) and numerous historic grave markers.

As the Principal Historical Architect, I worked with the firm’s other two principals to plan this project, determine the level of research needed to achieve the desired goals, define the scope of the final products, divide responsibilities among appropriate staff and specialized consultants, manage the work in progress and assure the final products were accomplished on time and within budget.

In our work, we conducted extensive research at national, state and local levels, using historical records, primary and secondary sources, as well as numerous personal interviews, to produce a detailed history of the parish and its historic structures, including a construction history for each building.  We produced measured digital drawings of the site and each building on it.  We investigated and assessed the condition of all materials, assemblies and systems in each building and provided recommendations for treatment, along with associated cost estimates.  We established preservation zones on the site and in the buildings that defined levels of historic value in particular areas and guided the degree of appropriate preservation action in each.  Specialized consultants, including structural, electrical and mechanical engineers, stone and stained-glass conservators, landscape architects and archivists, were made part of the team and each provided his or her professional assessment and recommendation.  Working with church leadership, we created proposed space plans for the future needs of each building.  I crafted an annual maintenance plan to guide the perpetual care of the buildings and grounds.  The number of tasks involved and individual participants required the creation of a master calendar to track each task with strategic benchmarks along a timeline.  The timeline of each task was coordinated with the others so all work could flow simultaneously and any necessary overlap was anticipated.  To make the plan successful required clear communication, frequent follow-up and clarifications, and flexibility when glitches occurred.  Throughout the project, we were in constant contact with church leadership, providing monthly reports of progress and revelations.

In the end, the deadlines were met within the required time limit.  All information and reports were documented in written and graphic form and assembled into a comprehensive volume.  We presented the completed information to the church leadership and congregation in an open forum and received enthusiastic feedback.  The parish used the report as anticipated, to guide its next large projects: the preservation and rehabilitation of the church, parish house and rectory; designing and constructing a sympathetic addition to the parish house; designing and installing a new pipe organ in the worship space; conserving the collection of stained-glass windows; creating an archive to house the parish’s historical records and establishing an annual maintenance plan.

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In 2007, Washington National Cathedral held a year-long centennial celebration of its first stone being laid.  That first stone is named the Foundation Stone and it consists of a large slab of American granite with a smaller stone from Bethlehem, in the Holy Land, imbedded in its surface.  In addition to several inscriptions on its surface, the Foundation Stone provides structural support for the altar and reredos in Bethlehem Chapel, which in turn supports the Jerusalem Altar on the Cathedral’s main level.  In 1907, tens of thousands of people attended the service when the Foundation Stone was set, including President Theodore Roosevelt and other honored dignitaries.  However, today no one can see the Foundation Stone because it is encased within the surrounding foundation walls of the Cathedral’s subcrypt.


With such attention lavished on the Foundation Stone in 1907, it seems odd to make it inaccessible for future generations to appreciate.  Since the Cathedral planned to celebrate the centennial of the Stone’s creation, I thought it appropriate and necessary to research the Stone’s history, identify the people involved in its development, learn the reasons behind its design, the meaning of its symbolism and celebrated installation, and discover the explanation for its inaccessibility, so that others might find a deeper appreciation of its significance.               


My research took me to a number of primary sources: the Cathedral’s construction document archives, the diary of the Bishop of Washington at the time, The Foundation Stone Book that documents the installation services, an array of historic photos and other newspapers and periodicals from the early twentieth century.  Secondary sources included: Cathedral Age, a Cathedral-produced periodical with references to the Foundation Stone’s fiftieth anniversary, numerous books on the history of the Cathedral’s construction by various authors, and other Cathedral-related publications.

Based on the historical information gathered from these sources, I wrote a paper entitled, “The Foundation Stone: Creating Sacred Space at Washington National Cathedral,” and presented it at “Building Spiritual Washington," the Seventh Biennial Symposium of the Latrobe Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians in Washington, DC.  To support my text, I provided numerous illustrations in a PowerPoint presentation.  Following that event, I reshaped the text to become a chapter entitled, “Hidden Eternity: Marking A Sacred Space,” contained within Living Stones: Washington National Cathedral at 100, a book published by the Cathedral during the centennial year.  I further condensed the paper into training materials for docents to use with visitors coming to the Cathedral during the year. Throughout the course of the centennial year, I shared my historical research and PowerPoint presentation to numerous gatherings of special tour groups, Governance and visiting dignitaries.  Finally, the Cathedral made a video of me explaining the history of the Foundation Stone and offering its story as a meditation to viewers on the Cathedral’s website.

The Foundation Stone, a seemingly simple, yet incredibly symbolic element in the life of Cathedral, provides insights on the religious beliefs and practices of the early builders of the National Cathedral.  The variable forms of sharing this historic information helped many people in the present day better understand their forebears of more than a hundred years ago.

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