Saturday, June 30, 2007

Newport Parish Interior

The interior of Newport Parish is composed of little that is actually colonial as well as a conglomeration of objects and mismatched features of questionable authority.

The first impression upon entering is that of the stained-glass windows that are said to be of Tiffany design; they are luminous and beautiful. However, they are incorrect as colonial Virginia churches all used clear glass which in those erected near the beginning of the eighteenth century were diamond paned. The assertion that they are true Tiffany glass is, too, disputed by an artisan in a recent restoration of them who considers them of Victorian origin but of relatively simple construction (McNatt, Linda "Historic St. Luke's Restoring Stained Glass ...." Virginian Pilot May 22, 1995: B3. ).

This church is less of a room church as Upton describes it than a semi-gothic space with a separated entrance and chancel that gives it a medieval character instead of a colonial one. Compare the effect of the huge windows at churches such as Abingdon to see the difference. I am reminded of the practice of suddenly opening side windows at services in the Williamsburg Presbyterian Church that always surprises me with the suffusion of light at the end of the rituals.

All that remains of the original interior woodwork is part of the architrave over the entrance door and one of the balusters on the alter rail from which the other balusters were copied (Rawlings 34). The roof uses massive tie beams to support the rafter surface that enclose the space in a manner reminiscent of medieval structures. Some of the window sills and plaster may be colonial (Rawlings 34). There was clearly a rood screen, unlike almost all of Virginia’s churches, and the bench pews may have been reconstructed in the nineteenth century from original ones (Rawlings 35). The box pews to the west of the altar screen are reconstructions of those constructed for wives of local officials (Rawlings 35). The rest of the pews are simple slip pews that may be derived from the original pews. Were they cut down like those of Vauter’s parish? The pulpit on the south wall is reconstructed from original models in other churches; the only original piece is reputed to be the sounding board (Rawlings 35).

Other elements that are on display are of either American or English origin and include:

  • A white walnut communion table
  • An arched-wainscot chair
  • Another early American chair by Thomas Dennis
  • A seventeenth century credence table
  • Iron torch holders on the west wall
  • A restored 1665 organ (1630??)
  • A silver-gilt chalice
  • A brass alms box
  • Two 1629 combination Common Prayer Books and Bibles
  • A pair of brass alms basins
  • An altar cloth
  • A tasseled pillow
  • A reproduction baptismal font “hewen hollow like a canoa” like that of the 1610 church at Jamestown Island
  • Other items of colonial style (all from Rawlings 35-36)

I didn’t think to catalogue all of the items, but, if the church was built in the 1680s, many are of dubious authenticity.

All in all, the effect of the interior is charming and gothic, almost like a transplanted English church. The light though the windows is muted by the deeply colored windows and makes it dim and moody rather than open, airy and luminescent as seems to be the effect in the room church in its full development (consider Merchant’s Hope). I do not go so far as Rawlings who asserts that “…it must reluctantly acknowledged that several false steps have been taken, and it is to be hoped that other colonial churches of great significance will not err in the same ways in the future (37). It is an important building, and it is to be hoped that future research will reveal more concrete information about the architecture, the dating, and the original interior.

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