Friday, May 13, 2011

The Episcopal Church of the Atonement, Edgewater

Mary, The Snake and Flowering Crabapples (JWB, 2001)
The Episcopal Church of the Atonement, 5749 North Kenmore

Mary stands glorified beneath the flowering crabapple trees at The Episcopal Church of the Atonement, 5749 North Kenmore.  I came upon the Blessed Virgin as I walked through Edgewater on an 85° day, kissed by the sun and cursed by a tree pollen count that was off the charts.

And there she was, Mary, suffering in silence . . . seemingly covered from head to toe in a shower of pollen. I knew how she felt; I was suffering right along with her.

Hand-hewn red sandstone at the entrance to the church (JWB, 2011)
The cornerstone for The Episcopal Church of the Atonement was laid in November of 1889 at its present site.  Henry Ives Cobb designed the church. Cobb, of course, also designed the Newberry Library, the old Chicago Historical Society on Dearborn Street, the Chicago City Hall and Courthouse that was demolished to make way for the present-day Federal Center, and the original campus plan for the University of Chicago.

In 1919 the church was expanded after the congregation grew from 120 to over 500 members after 1908.  The architect for the expansion was John Edmund Oldaker Pridmore, who was a member of the congregation and lived just a block away in a house he designed for himself on Winthrop.  He maintained the English Gothic character of the original church in his plan.

The English Gothic character of the church
as seen in its south elevation (JWB, 2011)
The Episcopal Church of the Atonement shows that both Cobb and Pridmore found inspiration in the philosophy of John Ruskin who wrote, “When we build, let us think that we build forever.  Let it be not for present delight, nor for present use alone; let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for.”

Ruskin’s 1849 Seven Lamps of Architecture asserted that buildings should reflect the work of human beings, such as masons and stone carvers and wood workers, that they should also reflect the culture from which they developed, and there should be no originality for its own sake, but rather a respect for traditional styles and methods of construction.

Look at most churches of this era in the city and you’ll them wearing a coat of gray Bedford limestone.  Not so the church in Edgewater, shaped red sandstone, pointed and arched windows and doorways, and meticulously crafted doors create that timeless appearance and respect for tradition.

By the way, notice the snake that seemingly is chomping at the hem of the Mary’s dress. I wondered about that.  Apparently, it’s the result of a mistranslation. 

In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, there is a line to the effect that “he will crush your head.”  But in the Vulgate translation, the Latin Bible used in the middle ages, that became, “she will crush your head.”  Still, it works nicely with the idea of Mary, the most virtuous of all women, crushing all of the powers of evil by her virtue alone. []

Now if she could only find a way to deal with that pollen . . .

Just a couple blocks away from the lakefront
highrises, The Church of the Atonment
keeps the faith (JWB, 2011)

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