A Taste of the North of Europe in North Carolina: A Project by Cram and Ferguson

Today I wished to share a recent church renovation project coming from within the context of St. Timothy's Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina -- an Anglican church, thus outside LAJ's usual scope of focus, however the liturgical art that was pursued here is certainly something that could readily be adopted within a Catholic context as well of course given that it is historically rooted within the same tradition. 

The project was executed by the excellent firm of Cram and Ferguson Architects; The firm’s team for the project consisted of Ethan Anthony, the head of the firm and principal architect, Matthew Alderman as director of design, Kevin Hogan as director of project management, and L. Daniel Morel and the other members of the drafting department.

Cram and Ferguson was first founded in 1889 by the distinguished church architect Ralph Adams Cram. Over the past thirty years, Ethan Anthony has returned the firm to its roots by undertaking numerous new traditional church construction projects, as well as renovations and additions which bring this traditional liturgical spirit and a wealth of traditional art and craft to modern churches in need of rejuvenation.

The firm provided us with this summary of the project:

The overall interior renovation and sacristy/vestry addition addressed both aesthetic and practical shortcomings of the current structure. The interior will now draw the eye to the chancel with a series of arches along the nave, with a new carved altarpiece and altar as the entire focus of the church. At its heart will be a traditional painted image depicting Biblical scenes. Above, stencilling depicting roses and lilies representing the Crucifixion and Resurrection connects the reredos visually with the new set of Gothic windows above. An elevated pulpit and sounding board, new carved altar rail, paneling, and clergy seating further dignify the renewed space. An addition to the south of the chancel houses a new vestry, creating a place of prayer and preparation for before the liturgy, as well as ample vestment storage. The lower story of the new vestry is a future location for a parish columbarium in the form of a small crypt chapel. The existing sacristy was reconfigured to add more storage space and a dedicated area for incense preparation. At the rear of the church, an extended choir loft makes up for seating lost to a previous organ installation, as well as providing an opportunity for a permanent font, a location for adult baptisms, and a more defined architectural and liturgical space for the baptistery overall. A masterplan and presentation renderings showcasing this new vision for the parish led to a successful capital campaign. Construction was completed in Spring 2021. 

Of particular interest is the stunning altarpiece which, quite rightly, now forms the primary emphasis of the church in question. It follows a typical medieval and northern European model with the painted work itself being inspired by Northern European artists like Jan Van Eyck. Alderman comments that "the altarpiece is the center of a new composition consisting of a triplet of three new Gothic windows framed by faux-stone trim and stenciling above, and medieval-style stained-wood paneling to either side. This, plus the monumental proportions of the new altarpiece and its crocketed wooden spire (over thirty feet from base to cross), leads the eye upward and creates a far more vertical feeling within the already large nave. The altarpiece also emphasizes the altar proper, arranged ad orientem and topped with a Spanish white Macael marble mensa. The altar is raised up on three steps from the nave floor."

The description of the altarpiece continues:
Above the tabernacle and gradines is a triptych modeled on the work of Rogier van der Weyden and Jan van Eyck by iconographer Maria Miteva of Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Cram and Ferguson produced an initial concept for the painting and worked closely with Ms. Miteva to ensure the result. The center panel depicts the Crucifixion, flanked by the Virgin, Saint John, the Magdalene and St. Joseph of Arimathea, with two further saints dear to the parish—St. Timothy and St. Benedict Joseph Labre—on the outer left and right. St. Timothy is shown in bishop’s vestments holding a model of the parish’s historic chapel; St. Benedict Joseph Labre, patron of the church’s work with the homeless, is shown in his ragged robes and holding a rosary, staff, and cocked hat. The bright colors and rich wood framing of the painting draw the eye from every point in the nave. St. Joseph of Arimathea is also particularly significant to the parish community on account of his namesake Society of St. Joseph of Arimathea, which provides burial in a new cemetery on-site for stillborn children. In the background, the medieval-style landscape of Jerusalem and its environs also includes, discretely, a local skyscraper and buildings from historic Old Salem, North Carolina. Adoring angels hover overhead. The left and right-hand panels, the Annunciation and the Presentation in the Temple, were chosen for their relationship to the Incarnation and the origins of the prayers of the Hail Mary and the Nunc Dimittis. The floor beneath each recalls the pattern in the chancel. In the Annunciation, Mary receives the Archangel Gabriel within the traditional enclosed garden, with the landscape beyond including a small depiction of St. Martin’s in Canterbury, the oldest church still in use in the British Isles. On the right-hand panel, in the distance beyond the Presentation can be seen the church of Saint Paul in Winston-Salem, the community from which St. Timothy’s springs. The two panels are closed during Lent, and the outer sides of the doors decorated with large medallions showing the Crown of Thorns and Nails, and the Pillar of the Scourging. The altarpiece is crowned by a lofty spire and canopy ornamented with traditional Gothic-style crocketing, tracery, cresting and pinnacles. 

The work in progress

Above the altar is a new tester that was also installed, based upon designs by Cram and Ferguson. In the large centre coffer is an IHS monogram surrounded by rays on a background of deep blue and a diced border, while the gold coffers along the edge have painted shields with the emblems of saints significant to the parish and its history. 

Cram and Ferguson notes that the woodwork of the altar and its associated pieces is all entirely hand-carved of cedar, executed by South American craftsmen. 

The tabernacle door is of hand-hammered brass showing the "Pelican in its Piety" with twelve semi-precious stones set around it, forged by Hammersmith Studios of Newton, Massachusetts. 

Detail of the tabernacle door

We have spoken here before of the importance of stencilling in churches such as these and certainly this aspect was not ignored in this project. Behind the altarpiece are found stencils depicting roses and lillies which is symbolically suggestive of the Blood of Christ and the purity of the Virgin Mary.  This design was adapted by Cram and Ferguson from a pattern by A.W.N. Pugin and was painted by Canning Liturgical Arts.

In addition to this, other painted details can be found, such as this image of the Holy Spirit, located above the baptismal front which is located within the narthex of the church. 

Returning to the baptistery itself, Cram and Ferguson installed new paving in colours similar to the chancel to highlight the area, along with a gold gothic inscription taken from the 43rd chapter of Isaiah. The font was carved in Spain from Cram and Ferguson’s designs and features sculpted symbols of the seven Sacraments, plus a lion representing the Resurrection facing the altar. The font also includes a bronze bowl made by hand by Massachusetts master silversmith Steve Smithers. The rail was forged from Cram and Ferguson’s designs by Hammersmith Studios and includes a hammered polychrome gate depicting the Baptism of Christ in part inspired by the work of Sir Ninian Comper. 

Overall we can say that this is a truly exceptional project that shows the possibilities not only for contemporary approaches to medievally influenced art and architecture, but for traditional approaches to contemporary architecture more generally.

For more information, please visit the website of Cram and Ferguson or see them on social media.

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