The Catholic Historical Review 89.3 (2003) 567-568
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St. Agnes Chapel of the Parish of Trinity Church in the City of New York 1892-1943. By Francis J. Sypher, Jr. (New York: Parish of Trinity Church in the City of New York. 2002. Pp. 160. $20.00.)
This is a gem of a book. Although small in size—the text is only 160 pages—it is packed with information, the greater part of it pioneering. The author masterfully narrates the sad history of one of the glories of church architecture and parish life in the Episcopal Diocese of New York.
Commencing with an introduction by the present Rector of Trinity Parish, [End Page 567] the Reverend Daniel Paul Matthews, this erudite study is divided into five chapters, with an introduction and an epilogue, three valuable appendices (clergy list, Chapel members who were Trinity Parish vestrymen, and the disposition of the contents of the Chapel), capacious notes, and a rich bibliography.
The Vestry of Trinity Church announced a competition for the design of the Chapel and adjacent buildings in July, 1888. Ten submissions were received and the design of William Appleton Potter was chosen. Norcross Brothers of Worcester, Massachusetts, were named the builders. The cornerstone was laid on May 19, 1890, by the architect's half-brother, Bishop Henry Codman Potter. The first service was held in St. Agnes Chapel on Whitsunday,June 5, 1892, with the formal installation of the Reverend Edward Augustus Bradley, D.D., as "assistant minister of Trinity Parish with responsibility for St. Agnes Chapel." Bishop Potter consecrated the church on September 27, 1892, before an "immense" congregation. The parochial limits of St. Agnes Chapel were from West 88th Street to West 95th Street, and from Central Park to the Hudson River.
While Dr. Sypher draws on his impressive personal knowledge of the history of New York and of Trinity Parish, his monograph is based on extensive research in archival and manuscript collections, an array of periodical literature, multiple interviews, and correspondence.
Sypher's thesis is that although "at the time of its opening in June 1892, [St. Agnes Chapel] was one of the most magnificent church buildings in New York,... since the 1890s, a revolution in aesthetic standards had occurred and 'Victorian' had become a term of opprobrium." This led to St. Agnes Chapel not only being physically destroyed but its memory obliterated as well.
Impelled by his sense of history, he remarks that with the Upper West Side having become "a totally different neighborhood from what it had been in the early 1900s," when the demolition of St. Agnes Chapel was completed by October 1, 1944, its "passing was hardly noticed." The vicarage stood for eleven more years. The parish house was taken over by Trinity School and remains standing today, a designated landmark.
St.Agnes Chapel is handsomely produced and comes enriched with rare photographs of the rectors, vicars, the floor plan, several views of the chapel, parish house, apse, and vicarage, the nave and transept, the high altar, the chancel, the morning chapel, the Watson window, a scene from a mystery play, and group pictures of the parish choir boys, the acolytes' guild, and the cadet corps.
The author's meticulous scholarship and wide-ranging interests collude to demonstrate his thesis and provide a lucid and exciting narrative, making this volume a lasting contribution in the field of cultural—as well as ecclesiastical—history. This was a story that deserved to be told. Francis Sypher has told it well.
City University of New York