Monday, April 9, 2018

Ralph Adams Cram And Anglo-Medievalism

Intrigued by the mention of Ralph Adams Cram in yesterday's post, I did some more searching. He's primarily noted as a church and university architect, although after more investigation, I discovered that he wrote some gothic-horror short stories that can be found on the web. I couldn't get through them; as Henry James put it, the strings on the marionette were too visible. But something struck me about Cram's style and what originally drew me to Episcopalianism -- Cram has an entry, for instance, in the Episcopal Dictionary of the Church. His birthday, December 16, is honored as a feast day in The Episcopal Church.

So let's take a closer look. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica,

Cram attempted to create buildings that would convey spiritual values as a corrective to technological civilization. He insisted that educational buildings be Gothic and designed the graduate college (1913) and chapel (1929) at Princeton University in this style. His influence helped establish Gothic as the standard style for the American college and university buildings of the period.
Let's grant that in his church and university commissions, he'd gained some of the most prestigious work in the country, and this put him on the cover of Time. He was a member of the Establishment, educated at Exeter and Yale. But who was behind these prestigious commissions? He did St Thomas Episcopal and St John's Episcopal Cathedral in New York, and I've got to assume the J.P.Morgan family was on board with these. He had Baptist commissions, with which I assume the Rockefellers may have had some connection, and Presbyterian, which could have come from Carnegie.

Why would post-medieval Protestant denominations choose to associate themselves with medievalism and the errors of the Catholic Church, though? Beyond that, the Establishment donors who financed these commissions, Morgans, Rockefellers, Carnegies, and others, made their money from technology, railroads, electricity, telecommunications, copper, and steel. But here we have establishmentarian Ralph Adams Cram designing churches and universities as correctives to technological civilization. What's up with that?

I've noted here before the view that the Oxford movement was part of a mid-19th century medieval revival that had its impetus in fear of railways, an early instance of technology (the laws of thermodynamics, for instance, were discovered in response to scientific research on how steam locomotives could be made more efficient).

The problem I see with the medieval revival, visible primarily between the 1840s and 1920s, is that as a deliberate revival, it's an affectation and inauthentic -- but beyond that, it seems to me that it's a sleight-of-hand. It's meant to distract from the source of the wealth that's funded the church buildings and universities, and in part to assuage the guilt subsequent generations seem to have felt for the robber barons who founded their fortunes.

Oddly, though, Rockefeller Sr never seems to have felt much guilt for cheaply producing and distributing products that raised living standards worldwide -- it was Rockefeller Jr, who never involved himself in the oil business, who felt the need to atone for things (or more accurately, create a public image of atoning.)

I would say that Anglo-Medievalism, which had wide appeal beyond high-church Anglicanism, was nevertheless an inauthentic development, and I think that in part is a reason for the disappointment behind Anglicanorum coetibus.