We Learn: Art and architecture
The church building that houses the Parish of the Epiphany is a 1904 design of the firm of Warren, Smith, and Biscoe, one of the leading Arts and Crafts influenced architectural offices in Boston. In keeping with the Arts and Crafts ideal that a building's style should be appropriate to its use, they expressed the origins of the Episcopal Church by designing an English Perpendicular Gothic parish church.
Although designed to have an elaborate (and to this writer, overly frothy) steeple, the church was constructed without it. In fact, the building complex took until 1959 to attain its present form. The original church had only a small one-story "Sunday School wing," whose extent is marked by the two windows fronting on the Cloister Garden that have stone tracery.
The need for more space led to an enlargement that extended the wing to about half its present size and added a second-story parish hall, reached by a flight of stairs, the ghost of which can be seen in the exterior wall of the present chapel. The parish house was again enlarged in the late 1920s, and a tower was added to the front of the church in 1940, bringing the church plant to the state in which it remained until the construction of Hadley Hall in 1959. The architect for all these extensions except for Hadley Hall was Frank Patterson Smith, formerly of Warren, Smith, and Biscoe, whose house still stands diagonally opposite the church.
The organ originally stood in the right side of the chancel, but in 1970 the congregation voted to construct a balcony at the rear of the church and install a new two-manual C. B. Fisk organ, which was dedicated in 1974. The organ was enlarged and completed with the addition of further stops some years later.
Epiphany's building came out of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Arts and Crafts movement, an intensely collaborative approach in which architects looked to artisans and craftspeople to flesh out and realize their ideas. Arising in part as a reaction to cheap machine-produced gewgaws and architectural ornament, the movement placed great value on hand work, even when the materials being used were, at first glance, anything but handicrafts.
This attitude is evident throughout the plant, from the smoothly hand-finished concrete floors of the church to the chancel woodwork, the molded tiles in the floors of the chancel and narthex, in the quarry-tile pavers throughout the church (set upside down for greater texture!), and particularly in the stained glass, which was installed over a period of almost a hundred years according to an original plan sketched when the building was new.
The parish house, too, shows this approach in many ways, ranging from the utilitarian-appearing light fixtures in the Cloister Garden corridor to the many decorative elements set into its brick walls, including ornamental tiles and low-relief sculptures.
The chancel woodwork was executed by the preeminent Boston Arts and Crafts joinery firm, Irving and Casson. Although documentation is lacking, it is highly probable that many of the decorative floor tiles came from Henry Chapman Mercer's Moravian Pottery and Tile Works. Both firms were closely associated with Warren, Smith, and Biscoe, and indeed, with the Boston Arts and Crafts movement in general.
Although it looks finished, Epiphany's church remains a work in progress. Wooden windows along the Cloister Garden corridor and in the Old Parish Hall above wait patiently to be replaced with stone tracery. Plain glass awaits its replacement with stained glass, and perhaps most intriguingly, plain stone blocks projecting from the sides of each window in the nave of the church await the carver's chisel to convert them into decorative sculptures.