No. 16545 All Saints Church, June 18, 2017.
National Register Nomination: All Saints Church, 211 Ashmont Street, 1893-1929, Cram & Goodhue
Report prepared in 1979
[Note: this reproduction of the information in the National Register Nomination Form may have typographical errors, and for technical matters, the reader may want to consult a copy of the original, which is available at the Boston Landmarks Commission or the Dorchester Historical Society]
The All Saints Church is located in the Ashmont section of Boston’s large Dorchester neighborhood. It is in the immediate vicinity of Peabody Square where Dorchester Avenue, a main thoroughfare, intersects with several local streets.
All Saints Church, erected between 1893 and 1929 is a basilican form Modern Gothic style Episcopal parish church building consisting of a nave with flanking aisles, tower, chancel, two small side chapels, and a projecting cloister with an attached parish house. Constructed of random-coursed, rough-faced Quincy granite with Nova Scotia sandstone trim, the church was designed by the firm of Cram & Goodhue and executed in stages: the nave, chancel, and cloister were completed in 1893, the tower and west and south porches in 1896, the parish house in 1906, and the Lady Chapel and Chapel of Saint Stephen in 1912 and 1929 respectively.
The west, or main entrance porch is a one-story, buttressed projection from the tower, with a battlemented parapet and a pointed-arch entranceway flanked by carved sandstone niches with other decorative carved detail above. The massive, squarish tower has tapering buttresses at the corners, a battlemented parapet, a large cathedral window with perpendicular style stone tracery over the west porch, and pairs of lancet windows toward the top of each facade. An attached octagonal stair tower rises slightly above the height of the main tower from its southwest corner.
The six-bay nave has a simple pitched slate roof and is flanked by low buttressed aisles on both sides. Cram’s intentional lowering of these side aisles was designed to let more light into the nave through the large clerestory windows above, while darkening the aisles themselves, which are lit only by small, rectangular windows in each bay. The large rectangular chancel reaches almost the full nave height and has three large windows on-each side which, like those in the clerestory and tower, have perpendicular style stone tracery with cinquefoil panels. Sandstone belt courses around the nave, tower, and chancel reflect divisions of interior space.
Although part of the original plan for the church, a small south porch with a pitched roof and intricate wooden tracery in the entrance arch was not completed until 1896. The Lady Chapel, built alongside the three southernmost bays of the east aisle, and the small, semi-octagonal Chapel of Saint Stephen, built off of the southernmost bay of the west aisle, are of matched stone and simulate the effect of transepts.
The cloister, a low, pitched-roof ell projecting north [east?] from the chancel, connects the church to the 1906 Parish House. This two story, medieval-inspired structure mixes Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Gothic elements, having a partially half-timbered second story, stepped buttresses and a lancet window, and rectangular window banks divided by stone mullions that derive from Jacobean architecture.
The Church’s interior contrasts a very simple structural fabric with highly decorative overlain ornament, handcrafted by a variety of notable European and American crafts- men. The pointed-arch arcades separating the nave from the narrow aisles are supported on simple chamfered stone piers without capitals, and the chestnut roof truss framing is similarly devoid of surface decoration other than chamfering. Head-high oak wainscoting, composed of beaded vertical-boards capped by a molded rail, runs along the walls of the aisles and tower. The fixed oak pews have quatrefoils carved into the end boards.
All of the clerestory windows except the four closest to the chancel have diamond- shaped panes in various shades of orange. The remaining four are of stained glass depicting biblical scenes; that on the south wall closest to the chancel was designed by Cram’s design partner, Bertram Goodhue. Five of the small, stained glass aisle windows were designed by the fine-arts glazier Charles Connick.
Its high degree of decoration and elevation slightly above the nave floor combine to make the chancel the dominant focus of the church’s interior. The chancel walls are paneled with a ten foot high oak screen, carved by the firm of Irving and Casson and containing choir stalls, an organ case, and sculpture niches with Gothic motifs such as linenfold carving in the dados, perpendicular tracery in the panel heads, a frieze with relief carved Biblical scenes, and an ornate foliate cornice. The altar, a solid, seven- ton block of Caen stone, is surrounded by a large and elaborate stone reredos, executed by Domingo Mora under the supervision of John Evans and carved with similar Gothic motifs. A large, central niche contains a figure of the Risen Christ, flanked by side niches containing angels, with a dozen smaller niches in between with Old and New Testament figures. A somewhat similarly composed carved oak reredos above the side altar in the Lady Chapel was carved by the ecclesiastical sculptor Johannes Kirchmayer in 1912.
The building has not been altered since the date of the last addition.
All Saints Church possesses integrity of location, design, setting, materials and workmanship as well as significant associations with the development of the Modern Gothic style. All Saints Church, Ralph Adams Cram’s first architectural commission, has considerable and long-recognized significance both as the earliest work of a major architectural style, the Modern Gothic. The church’s construction over a nearly forty-year span also reflects the evolution of Cram’s theory and style; finally, its interior sculpture and ornament represent a high point in American interior church design.
All Saints Parish had its origin as a mission, begun in 1867, for mill workers in the Dorchester lower Mills area. After building its first church, a wood frame building on Dorchester Avenue in 1871, the congregation formally organized as a parish in 1874. Largely because of the beneficence of Colonel Oliver Peabody, a prominent Unitarian and partner in the investment banking firm of Kidder & Peabody (who adopted the parish in 1879 after stopping in for a Sunday service when a snowstorm impeded his passage into Boston from his residence in Milton) the parish undertook the building of a larger church in 1890. Bertram Goodhue at this time was Cram’s draftsman and later became his partner. Apparently because of the beauty of Bertram Goodhue’s renderings, Cram’s firm was chosen by a Parish committee, which included Colonel Peabody, to design the new church. Its cornerstone was laid by Phillips Brooks the following year.
A major figure in American architecture and designer of such noted works as the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, the Princeton University Chapel, and the West Point Academy, Ralph Adams Cram (1863-1942) was also a theorist and Gothic scholar whose work and thought fostered a style which changed the face of ecclesiastical America in the first third of the 20th century.
Reacting against what he saw as artificiality and awkwardness in Victorian Gothic architecture, Cram preached a “creative scholarship” (Tucci, 1973, p. 53) based on an attempt to move forward from the point where English Perpendicular Gothic architecture had been, in Cram’s view, interrupted by the Renaissance and Reformation early in the 16th century. Although Cram recognized the necessity of creating new Gothic forms to satisfy modern needs, he insisted that these forms have structural authority, artistic integrity, and a basis in English Gothic precedents.
Thus, as Cram’s first opportunity to give physical form to these precepts, All Saints Church is important not only for its broader impact on American architecture (ultimately leading to such diverse developments as the “Collegiate Gothic” of Princeton and Yale, and Chicago’s. Tribune Tower) but more particularly, as a watershed in American. ecclesiastical design. Furthermore its nearly forty-year genesis reflects Cram’s style development from a simple, massive, textured beginning, as exemplified in the original nave, tower, and chancel, to a later emphasis on smoothness, verticality, and detail which can be seen in the later parish house and side chapels (though somewhat obscured by Cram’s attempt to match these additions to the original design).
Finally, the church’s finely crafted interior is important not only for the quality of its design, but as the first example of a church interior designed as an integral example of the overall building design, by the same firm as the structure itself. All of the church’s interior ornament, with the exception of the figurative sculpture and most of the stained glass, was designed by Cram and Goodhue with the expressed intention of maintaining an internal consistency of design which would allow the church structure and its interior decoration to function as a coherent whole. This integrated design concept, first employed at All Saints, became the prototype for much subsequent church building in America.
Also noteworthy are the figurative sculpture and stained glass work which, though not expressly following the firm’s designs, were intended as highlights in a larger ornamental fabric and were executed by a collection of notable European and American artists. German-born Johannes Kirchmayer (1860-1930), who carved the Lady Chapel altarpiece and the sanctuary paneling reliefs, was a founder of the Boston Society for Arts and Crafts. He also worked on wooden figure sculpture at Christ Church, Cranbrook, Michigan, and the Washington Cathedral. John Evans (1850-1923), the Welsh sculptor who supervised the execution of much of the chancel sculpture as well as carving various other interior elements at All Saints also worked on the Washington Cathedral, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, and the Boston Public Library, Trinity Church, and the First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston. Charles Connick (1874-1945), designer of much of the stained glass at All Saints, was also a personal friend of Cram1s who worked with him on numerous other commissions as well, including St. John the Divine and the Princeton University Chapel.
Cram, Ralph Adams. Church Building. Boston, 1899. (1924 edition)
Maginnis, Charles D. The Work of Cram & Ferguson, Architects. New York: Pencil Points Press, 1929.
Tucci, Douglas S. The gothic Churches of Dorchester, Volume Two: All Saints’ Church. Boston: Dorchester Savings Bank, 1973.
Whitaker, C.H., editor. Bertram Goodhue: Architect and Master of Many Arts. New York: American Institute of Architects Press, 1925.