The Architecture of St. Mark's — Living History
A Quick Tour of the Nave by Q&A
Q. The building is beautiful—but what do you call this style?
A. Well, some insist that it is Neo-Romanesque (or “Richardsonian Romanesque”), the label given to the late Victorian reinterpretation of ancient Italian architecture. And it is true that the rounded interior arches, echoed by both the windows and the massive sandstone altar, support this view. On the other hand, the building has some decidedly Neo-Gothic touches, particularly in its use of stained glass. Regardless of whether it fits any label other than Victorian eclectic, the interior’s restrained elegance—with beautifully crafted details in wood, wrought iron, mosaic tile and molded brick—set off the jewel tones of the glass artworks.
Q. Where are all your pews?
A. We took them out nearly 40 years ago in order to reconfigure our services to be held “in the round.” The pews were replaced with interlocking chairs, permitting a movable altar to be placed in the middle of the nave. Parishioners now sit facing the altar on all four sides. On rare occasions the high altar is used for worship. A series of crosses made by parishioners hangs above the central altar; the designs change with the liturgical season.
Q. What can you tell me about the big stained glass window?
A. The window over the baptistry dates from 1888 and is one of the oldest and largest stained glass works ever produced by the studio of Louis Comfort Tiffany. The center panel depicts “Christ Leaving the Praetorium” (i.e., the Roman governor’s headquarters) moments after Pontius Pilate washed his hands of the matter; the design is a copy of an original work by 19th-century French illustrator Gustave Dore. The abstract border incorporates some Celtic-inspired designs, which Tiffany often favored.
Q. Are the other windows from Tiffany, too?
A. No. The large windows on the ground level are by a German firm, Mayer of Munich, and date between 1888 and 1931. The smaller windows in the “clerestory” above, which date from 1905 to 1999, include works by Mayer and several American studios. One unfilled window remains, with “temporary” glass now 115 years old.
Q. Is that a fresco painted onto the high altar?
A. No. The painting over the altar was executed by Mayer of Munich on canvas and shipped here to be affixed to the altar. Thanks to the generosity of a group of gay members known as the “Lambda Lions,” it was restored recently by a parishioner who is a professional art restorer