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themselves into a church, are generally framed in such ambiguous phrases as admit of variety of interpretation by different minds.
The futility of attempting to enforce perfect uniformity of belief on theological subjects is abundantly shewn, not only by the fact of the Christian church being divided into such numberless sections, but by the history of almost every one of these separate bodies. Even such churches as actually forbid and disclaim all right of private judgment or personal inquiry in theological questions, claiming for their creeds the stamp of immutable truth, and the sanction of divine authority, are not exempt from such diversities among their own members, even on points considered by them as of primary importance. Fear of incurring the penalties attached to heretical error is sufficient to deter most men from either avowing doubts or attempting to remove them by free investigation.
If in such churches, bound to fixed forms of faith by rigid authority and severe penalties, uniformity of belief cannot be insured, still less can it be looked for in that other body of Christians whose chief characteristic is freedom from all fixed formulæ of belief, and who hold unfettered inquiry and progress in opinion to be their most sacred right and privilege.
But how shall we define the spirit of a church in which scarcely two individuals can be found holding precisely the same views on all points? The Unitarian has in truth a creed as fixed and definite as that of other Christians; but it embraces simply the belief in those great and immutable truths accepted by all churches, but which are by most of them thrust aside to make way for complicated and doubtful theological systems, adherence to which forms the chief bond of union among their members.
The spirit of the Unitarian church may then be defined as one of simplicity and rationality of belief, --individual freedom of inquiry on religious matters,—and unity of faith in the broad and fundamental principles which it holds as the essence of the divine revelation made to man by Jesus Christ.
Now, the objects for which a number of individuals holding such a faith will unite themselves to form a church are twofold. 1st, To stimulate and encourage each other in the maintenance of the particular form of Christianity which they hold to be the best and truest, and to promote its diffusion among the community at large; and, 2nd, To provide for the celebration of social worship, in a manner congenial with their faith and feelings. It is with the latter that we are now chiefly concerned; for it alone renders necessary the provision of an edifice set apart for that special purpose.
As in doctrine, so in worship, is the Unitarian church unfettered by authoritative uniformity, and each separate congregation adopts that particular form most consonant with its own feelings: one has a single liturgy, another a series of liturgies, and a third
cessaryi, essentiaditional acco
no liturgy at all: but, while differing in form, they are all actuated by the same religious spirit.
Before examining into the particular forms of architecture applicable to the purpose in question, it is proper that we should be fully impressed with the sanctity of such a purpose, and the importance of giving to the house set apart for the worship of God, such a distinctive outward aspect as will best display its character. The general form, as well as every separate part, should have an intelligible meaning, in harmony with its purpose.
As there can be no true art without a basis of truth, so no architecture can be good which does not visibly proclaim its object and suitably impress the beholder. In giving to a building the form best adapted to its purpose, irrespective of any particular style of architecture, we necessarily impart to it a character in harmony with that purpose; and it then becomes, with the artist, a vehicle for exciting the appropriate emotions by purification and embellishment. But this harmony between the purpose and outward aspect of a building should not be the motive and end, but rather the natural accompaniment of the fulfilment of certain primary conditions of utility.
If such principles are essential to all good architecture, they are peculiarly necessary in the case of that consecrated to sacred purposes. The history of Religion and the history of Art, from the earliest times, may be said to run in parallel lines, and bear equal testimony to the intimate union between religious belief and religious architecture. All the great styles of antiquity may indeed be traced to this powerful sentiment in the human mind.
A very cursory glance at the various styles of architecture made use of by the Christian church at different periods, will assist us in arriving at the proper answer to the proposed question.
On the first toleration of Christianity by Constantine, the only buildings in Rome which could be found affording the requisite amount of accommodation were the civil or judicial Basilicæ. Subsequently, when Theodosius proclaimed Christianity to be the sole religion of the empire, the Pagan temples, thus superseded,—but which were totally unfit for the purposes of Christian worship, partly on account of their small size, but chiefly from the associations connected with them,-were doomed to destruction ; but, on account of the low state of the art of building at that time, their materials furnished a very opportune supply for the erection of the numerous large churches now required.
The form and arrangement of the Roman Basilica had been found so convenient for all the purposes of Christian worship, that it was still followed in all these new structures; and, in fact, the same general type has been followed, with slight modifications, in the majority of churches in Christendom to the present time. In the ground-plan of the Basilica may be traced
the germ of the division of a church into centre and side aisles by rows of pillars, -of the transepts, the chancel for the singers, and the sanctuary for the clergy, all which, though used originally for other and civil purposes, answered in a remarkable manner for the sacred purposes to which they were now applied.*
In these first churches, the roofs were, like their prototypes, of wood; but soon the desire arose of covering them with the more substantial and durable stone vault. But the weight and thrust of this vault necessitated other changes, such as strengthening the pillars and walls; and the pillars were now connected by semi-circular arches, instead of the horizontal entablature used before, and were consequently allowed to be placed at considerably greater distances apart, thus offering less obstruction on the floor. These various changes, with others consequent upon them, ultimately led to the formation of the style of ecclesiastical architecture which by the seventh century had spread over a large part of Europe, and prevailed, with slight variations in different countries, until the eleventh century.
The style is thus characterized by Dr. Whewell: “A more or less close imitation of the features of Roman architecture. The arches are round—are supported on pillars retaining traces of the classical proportions; the pilasters, cornices and entablatures, have a correspondence with those of classical architecture; there is a prevalence of rectangular faces and square-edged projections; the openings in walls are small, and subordinate to the surfaces in which they occur; the members of the architecture are massive and heavy, very limited in kind and repetition, the enrichments being introduced rather by sculpturing surfaces than by multiplying and extending the component parts. There is a predominance of horizontal lines, or at least no predominance or prolongation of vertical ones." This style has been designated by various writers as the Romanesque, the Lombard and the Norman.
The development and perfecting of this first style of Christian architecture must be undoubtedly ascribed to the Christian missionaries and clergy (and their associated body, the free-masons), by whom the conversion of the several countries was effected.
Notwithstanding the wide diffusion of the Romanesque style, and its manifest beauty and fitness for the purposes with which it appeared to be permanently associated, it was nevertheless destined to be superseded by another, yet more beautiful, and more completely expressive of the inmost life and spirit of that Christian faith to which, in fact, the perfection of both styles was due.
The sudden rise of the Pointed or Gothic style in the latter * See a very able article on this subject in the Quarterly Review, Vol. LXXV.
† Whewell's “German Churches," p. 47.
half of the twelfth century, and its almost simultaneous appearance in different and distant parts of Christendom, is one of the most curious and interesting problems in the whole range of architectural inquiry. The power, wealth and influence of the clergy at this time exceeded those of any other class, and they maintained and extended this power by the erection of numerous costly churches, for which they procured without difficulty almost unlimited resources,-gifts to the church being in those times considered equivalent to services rendered to God, and the sacrifice of all earthly possessions the surest passport to heaven. Moreover, the struggles of the different communities of monks to outvie each other in the splendour of their churches, and their desire of overawing the ignorant laity, caused unwonted activity of invention among the body of the free-masons, whose whole energies were thus concentrated on this one object; while, by the free communication kept up among the different companies of their body, every improvement and advance was rapidly known to the whole fraternity.*
Under such circumstances, it is not surprising that very rapid strides should have been made towards the perfection of ecclesiastical architecture.
This new “ Pointed” style is described by Dr. Whewell as “ characterized by the pointed arch; by pillars which are extended so as to lose all trace of classical proportions; by shafts which are placed side by side, often with different thicknesses, and are variously clustered and combined. Its mouldings, cornices and capitals, have no longer the classical shapes and members; square edges, rectangular surfaces, pilasters and entablatures, disappear; the elements of building become slender, detached, repeated and multiplied; they assume forms implying flexure and ramification; the openings become the principal part of the wall, and the other portions are subordinate to these. The universal tendency is to the predominance and prolongation of vertical lines.”+ Buttresses, pinnacles, shafted pillars, richlymoulded door and window jambs, towers and spires, are made the most prominent features; while the necessary horizontal lines of string courses, cornices, &c., are made of slight projection and subordinate importance.
The origin of the pointed arch and other peculiar features of the style, has been a subject of much controversy ; but it is not of much importance to our present inquiry. Whatever the original source, there can be little doubt that the rapid development of the Pointed style was the result of certain manifest and proved advantages which it possessed over that which preceded it. In all great architectural changes, constructive necessity has been
• Hope's Essay on Architecture, ch. xxxii.
the first and most powerful motive, and it may reasonably be supposed to have been so in the present instance.
Now, one result of the general vertical tendency just spoken of was, that every part of the buildings, but especially the towers, were carried to an immense height, and it would very soon be found that the semi-circular arch did not possess sufficient strength to bear the great weight thus laid upon it. In a period of such architectural activity, the builders would not be long in discovering that the pointed arch (the mere form of which must have been known to them before) was not only the strongest they could adopt, but also the simplest, the most beautiful, and most in harmony with the direction in which the whole of their architecture was tending.
To these, among other causes, must be attributed the interesting change in ecclesiastical architecture of which we are now speaking. The principle of the pointed arch was the key to the whole style, and to it and its necessary accompaniments can be traced the origin of all its essential features.
It will be unnecessary to notice the various stages through which this wonderful style passed, from the simplicity of its earliest form up to the exuberance of its full maturity, appropriately called by Dr. Whewell the “ Complete Gothic," or the later modifications which preceded its decline. It is sufficient here to say that, by the end of the fifteenth century, it had suffered serious degradation, and that a century and a half later witnessed its utter neglect and abandonment. One remarkable circumstance has been noticed by Dr. Whewell, “ that the English architects should have gone by a path of their own to the consummation of Gothic architecture, and should on the road have discovered a style, full of beauty and unity, and quite finished in itself, which escaped their German brother-artists,"* viz., the style usually termed “Early English.” He also notices the fact that, while a different nations converged by different paths to a sort of central idea of Gothic, it appears that they afterwards diverged, and formed out of this common style various degenerate kinds of architecture, different in different countries." Of these derivations of the pure Gothic, he considers the English “Perpendicular” to be the “most beautiful and least degenerate," and "scarcely inferior to any form of Gothic architecture.”+
Few words will suffice to trace the course of ecclesiastical architecture, after the abandonment of the Pointed style. With few exceptions, the churches built since that time, till within the last quarter of a century, exhibit an almost total ignorance of the true principles of the art. The discarded style was as much as possible avoided; and while the principles of no other style were understood, the want of skill in the builders could
* Whewell's “German Churches,” p. 23.
+ P. 38.