Temples of grace: the material transformation of Connecticut's churches, 1790-1840
Following the American Revolution, the majority of Connecticut's religious societies tore down their boxy eighteenth-century meetinghouses and replaced them with something totally different: spired churches with an elaborate entrance portico on one of the shorter facades. These new buildings signaled a change in how these Christians conceptualized worship space, and in their fundamental understanding of the relationship between the spiritual and material aspects of their lives.
Because these new churches evoked a much-beloved myth of tightly-bound communities sharing democratic values and faith in God, they have often been romanticized as emblems of a bygone era of pastoral serenity. Yet, New England of the early nineteenth century--and its religious life in particular--was anything but tranquil. Revivalism, evangelicalism, and religious pluralism meshed with social, economic, and political dislocation to create a volatile period in which Christianity's place was uncertain.
This study argues that religious belief and practice, altered in substance and even more so in style by evangelicalism, revival, and a pervasive culture of sensibility, called for new notions of worship. These new buildings helped individuals and congregations regain their equilibrium and developed their spiritual sensibilities and sense of community. They also soothed republican concerns about the need for a religious populace and were important signs of civility and refinement. As the most striking buildings in many Connecticut towns, these churches tell us what citizens of the early republic thought was important, and what they wanted visitors to find remarkable in a distinctive American landscape.
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