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Christ Church Episcopal was built in 1888.
By Chris Young | SJ-R
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Mindful of history
By Chris Young

Stones arranged in the shape of a cross and set in plaster remind members of Christ Episcopal Church in downtown Springfield of the struggle for religious freedom.

The Anglican parish was chartered in 1887, and the congregation meets in the more than 120-year-old historic stone church at the corner of Sixth and Jackson streets.

The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The small stones that make up the cross - the biggest one could fit in a man's palm - come from Runnymeade, England, where the Magna Carta was signed in 1215. 

King John was forced to sign the document that limited his power and also prohibited royals from interfering with the Church of England. 

The stone cross is in an out-of-the-way location on the chancel, out of view of most worshipers in the pews.

The church, built in 1888 in a mostly Richardson Romanesque revival style, similarly is tucked away in a corner of downtown Springfield on the southwest edge of the block housing the Hoogland Center for the Arts.

American architects in the latter half of the 19th century experimented with the Romanesque style. Henry Hobson Richardson, who is best known for designing Trinity Church, an Episcopal church in Boston, is remembered for making the Romanesque style his own.

The Culver Construction Co. of Springfield built the Christ Church building in Springfield of Grafton stone.

Cousins Charles Ridgely and George Webster donated $14,000 for construction of the church.

The building has undergone some modifications, including the addition of the parish house on the east side of the building in 1914.

Standing on the chancel, church historian Betty Leinicke talks about the changes.

"You see this was all rounded," she says. "When they built the parish house, they made a lot of changes, so it's not really Richardson revival anymore."

The chancel was squared off so the buildings would meet properly.

The rounded chancel included three cherub stained-glass windows that remained in storage until Leinicke convinced church leaders to get them out and try to repair them.

The surviving cherub is in the parish house.

Leinicke, 85, is a 73-year member of Christ Church. She served as church historian - or historiographer - for 40 years.

"Now, I am historiographer emeritus," she says. "I still have a key and can do work if I want to."

At the front of the sanctuary, a sculpted eagle holds the Holy Bible.

"Most Episcopalian churches have an eagle that holds the Bible for reading of the lessons," Leinicke says.

Eagles have many symbolic meanings, from being a force against evil to the soaring of the gospel to those in the congregation.

The sanctuary is filled with stained-glass windows given in memory of church members. Some of the windows are original.

Leinicke's favorites include the Easter morning scene with women arriving at the empty tomb of Christ, and next to it, St. Cecilia. 

On the opposite side of the sanctuary, King David holds his lyre.

Newer windows line the hallway connecting the historic building with the parish house.

Leinicke says only a few window spots remain for future memorials.

"I won't have a stained-glass window," she says. "My memorial will be the church histories that I have written."

 

Story published Friday, January 7, 2011 ( Volume 5, Number 8 )

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