Saturday, August 11, 2012

St. James Church, Oskaloosa

It is just not true --- those allegations that the only reason I go to chapter meetings is to snoop in other peoples' churches, beg to play a few chords on the organ (especially if it's piped) or --- in the case of St. James Church, Oskaloosa, the carillon.

Although --- they did let me play briefly with the newly rejuvenated pipe organ at St. James Friday. But not, wisely, the carillon. Those bells, when played, are heard all over downtown. And the South Central Chapter of the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa does include two of the finest church buildings in the diocese --- Trinity of Ottumwa --- and St. James.

St. James, consecrated Feb. 2, 1902, and located at the intersection 1st Avenue East and South 3rd Street, is a good example of the high Anglican triumphalism in play at the turn of the 20th century in Iowa parishes that could afford it. The exterior shots I took Friday don't do it justice --- the sun was in the wrong place.

Reportedly designed by a communicant, Frank E. Wetherell, it was built by Henry Wetherell. The tower was included specifically to house the Williams carillon --- ten massive bells, each inscribed "Te Deum," and operated by levers in the tower's base.

The church replaced a much simpler frame structure in the carpenter gothic style, consecrated during 1870 and moved to the rear of the lot when the new church was built. The old church was encased in brick to match the new nave, chancel and tower and currently houses offices and the parish hall.

The St. James chancel is divided from the nave by a rood screen, relatively rare in Iowa Episcopal churches, and houses the striking carved altar (top), lit by high windows on both the east and west, as well as the organ and choir. I especially like the wine-glass (although a rather chunky one) pulpit.

This corner on the southeast edge of downtown Oskaloosa is heavily invested in churches. St. Mary's Catholic Church is just north across 1st Avenue East, and First Baptist Church, just south.

First Baptist, which dates from 1881, is an interesting old building, too, with lovely stained glass. It appears to have been substantially reconfigured, since the current steeple is entirely out of proportion to the remainder of the building. Most likely there once was a tower with considerably more presence --- perhaps at the corner where the entry now is,  that housed the big bell that now sits somewhat forlornly beside the building.

There are many other fine old churches in Oskaloosa, but some else is going to have to lead that tour. I ran out of time Friday and finally had to go inside for the chapter meeting.

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