“I had expected much of the Bryn Athyn church, but nothing like what I found. If it existed in Europe, in France or England, it would still be at once six centuries behind, and a hundred years ahead of its time. But on the soil of great architectural traditions, it would be in a measure comprehensible, and the presence in the neighbourhood of the great works of the past would in a way prepare the mind for this achievement of the present age. For your church, alone of modern buildings, in my judgment, is worthy of comparison with the best the Middle Ages produced” (A. Kingsley Porter. Letter to Raymond Pitcairn. 24 October 1917. Glencairn Museum Archives, Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania. Emphasis added).
A. Kingsley Porter (1883-1933), an American art historian and medievalist, expressed this opinion of Bryn Athyn Cathedral in a letter he wrote to Raymond Pitcairn following a visit in 1917. Porter was a Professor of Fine Arts at Yale University at the time, and would later serve with a commission to restore French cathedrals damaged during the First World War. He visited Bryn Athyn on several occasions and carried on a lengthy correspondence with Pitcairn.
Raymond Pitcairn, who oversaw all aspects of the Cathedral’s construction, had hoped to write a book about the project, but a very busy life had not allowed him to devote the necessary time to the task. He eventually commissioned E. Bruce Glenn, a Professor at Bryn Athyn College of the New Church, to take on the project, giving him full access to his personal archive and library. Pitcairn was able to review some of the chapters before his death in 1966. Bryn Athyn Cathedral: The Building of a Church was published in 1971.
This book has been unavailable for many years now. However, a revised and updated second edition is being prepared by the Bryn Athyn Church. The new hardcover edition will feature new color photography, enhancements to the original color photography, some revisions to the text, and the addition of source citations for quoted material.
The purpose of the online version of the book on NewChurchHistory.org is threefold: 1) to make the text widely available to students and scholars, 2) to encourage a greater general awareness of the history of Bryn Athyn Cathedral, and 3) to generate interest in the upcoming revised edition. The text has been preserved as originally written, with the exception of the modification of a few dates (due to updated information), and small revisions in some of the quoted material. Only the archival black and white photographs from the book are included in the online version, with the color photographs being reserved for the upcoming revised hardcover edition. Source citations for quoted material, not included in the original 1971 edition, are being added in the form of chapter footnotes as they become available through ongoing research.
Photos: The aerial view of Bryn Athyn Cathedral was taken in 1924. The date is firmly established by the presence of a broken pinnacle on the tower. It was struck by lightning following a wedding and plunged through the roof. The photograph of a stone carver working on a column base with mallet and chisel has “May 1916” written on the front. “Felix [sic] Sabatino” is written on an accompanying archive label. Felice Sabatino (1891-1972) worked as a stone carver, and chief modeler for the Cathedral project. The photograph of a modeler working on a pinnacle design has the following written on an archive label: “Modeler Felice Sabatino…” All three photographs are in the collection of the Glencairn Museum Archives, Bryn Athyn, PA.
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