A striking church in the shadow of the John Hancock building on Copley Square, Trinity Church in Boston established the enduring influence of Henry Hobson Richardson on American architecture. Completed in 1877 and still home to a thriving Episcopalian congregration, the church provides daily guided tours.
History of Trinity Church
Trinity parish was founded in 1733 and originally worshipped in downtown Boston. In 1870, led by the charismatic Rector Phillips Brooks, the parish decided to build a new church wherever a suitable place might be found. The lot was purchased in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood in January 1872, H.H. Richardson was chosen as the architect in June 1872, and construction began in 1873.
The congregation turned out to need the new church more than they had initially expected: their old church burned down in the Great Fire of Boston in November 1872. While the new building was under construction, they worshipped in Huntington Hall of MIT.
First to be completed was the Chapel (Parish House), in November 1874. Sunday school and lectures were held in the new building while construction continued on the main church. In May 1875, when the walls were already partially built, the rector officially laid the cornerstone for the church.
Construction on the new Trinity Church building was completed in November 1876. With only the decoration and furnishings remaining, the consecration date was scheduled for February 9 of the following year. The master artist John La Farge and his assistants worked past midnight in the last days before January 31, when they were due to finish the painting of the sanctuary. The remaining days were frantic ones of dismantling the scaffolding, finishing the floors, installing the pews and completing the organ.
But it was all done in time and the dedication was held on February 9, 1877, a beautiful spring-like day. Present at the ceremony were the Governor of Massachusetts, the Mayor of Boston, the Bishops of the Diocese of Massachusetts, clergymen from other denominations, and the architects, artists, and builders of the new church. A procession of 107 clergymen began the dedication service, which was conducted by several clergymen from Boston and New England including the rector of the Old North Church.
In 2005, Trinity Church completed a $53 million preservation and expansion project that will protect this unique American landmark for future generations.
What to See at Trinity Church
Trinity Church marked the birth of the "Richardsonian Romanesque" style, which was later copied throughout the United States and even in Europe and Canada. Although not to every modern viewer's tastes, the building has received great professional acclaim since its completion and continues to do so today. In 2007, Trinity Church was ranked #25 on the AIA 150 America's Favorite Architecture.
Supported on around 4500 wooden piles, which are continually wetted by a pump to prevent rotting, Trinity Church has a solid, heavy appearance. It is built on a Greek-cross plan, with four equal arms extending from a central tower that rises 211 feet high. The facade features twin square towers and a porch with three round portals.
Richardson's design was inspired by the bold and fresh preaching of Trinity's rector, a personal friend of the architect. Instead of the traditional English Gothic design he had initially sketched, Richardson decided on a Neo-Romanesque edifice with a central plan, welcoming porch and strong, dramatic towers. In keeping with the democratic spirit of American worship at the time (and still today), the design welcomed parishioners into the middle of the action rather than relegating them to the traditional role of observers.
Though primarily inspired by French Romanesque churches, Trinity Church is a unique amalgam of styles and influences. There are traces of High Victorian Gothic in the exterior appearance and the interior murals and the lantern tower was patterned after Salamanca Cathedral in Spain. However, this was not the original plan for the tower - it was to be much taller, but the soft soil of the site forced Richardson to revise his plans.
The interior is elaborately decorated with murals by John La Farge and his associates, which cover over 21,500 square feet.
One of the highlights of the unique interior is the varied collection of stained glass windows, made by both European and local artists. The oldest is the Baptism Window in the chancel (designed by Clayton & Bell of London), the only one to be installed when the church was consecrated in 1877.
The remainder were individually donated and designed in the years that followed. Those commissioned in 1877 and 1878 were traditional in style, designed by the famous London workshops of Burlison & Grylls, Daniel Cottier & Co., Henry Holiday, and Clayton & Bell.
Four windows installed in 1882 reflected the new English Arts & Crafts movement, with its delicate lines and decorative patterning. These windows, three of which are in the north transept, were designed by English Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones and executed by William Morris & Co. In contrast, the south transept contains ornate, brightly-colored Catholic-style windows manufactured in France. The donors were living in Paris at the time.
Beginning in 1883, John La Farge created multiple stained glass windows for the church, using his newly perfected technique of layering opalescent glass. His beautiful contributions depict Christ in Majesty (three-panel clerestory window at the west end), The New Jerusalem, The Resurrection, and The Presentation of the Virgin.
Finally, two windows were donated and designed by Sarah Wyman Whitman, a Boston artist, Bible Study teacher, and friend of Rector Phillips Brooks. These can be seen in the Angel Room of the Parish House.
Quick Facts on Trinity Church
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||42.349971° N, 71.075470° W|
|Address:||206 Clarendon St|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Trinity Church|
- Art and Architecture - official website of Trinity Church
- Trinity Church - Great Buildings Online
- Trinity Church (Boston) - National Historic Landmarks Program
- Henry Hobson Richardson - Encyclopaedia Britannica Online (June 2009)
- America's Favorite Architecture - AIA
- Boston: Trinity Church and Copley Square - Wally Gobetz
- Roger H. Clark and Michael Pause, Precedents in Architecture (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1985), 96-97.
- Edward Ford, The Details of Modern Architecture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990), 18, 118-19.
- Michael Southworth, AIA Guide to Boston, 3rd: Contemporary Landmarks, Urban Design, Parks, Historic Buildings and Neighborhoods.
- Jeffrey Karl Ochsner, H. H. Richardson, Complete Architectural Works (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1982), 123.
- Photos of Trinity Church - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of Trinity Church, Boston
Below is a location map and aerial view of Trinity Church. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.