Bryn Athyn Cathedral, Bryn Athyn

Bryn Athyn Cathedral is a medieval style building constructed beginning in 1913 and dedicated for worship in 1919, with stone carving, stained glass, woodwork, and metalwork done by craftsmen on site. It serves as the Episcopal seat of the General Church of the New Jerusalem, neighboring the Academy of the New Church, Bryn Athyn College and Theological School, as well as the Bryn Athyn Church School run by the Society.

John Pitcairn, founder of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, was the major benefactor, donating the land and much of the funds. The building's initial design was by the Boston architecture firm of Ralph Adams Cram. John's son Raymond became heavily involved with the project, eventually taking charge. He realized that the workers and artisans working on the cathedral should be directly employed by the church and that creative changes by artists and builders working together which happen during the design process should be nurtured rather than stifled. This led to some very unorthodox construction practices. For example, rather than relying on blueprints and plans, almost every aspect of the design was made into scale models where Mr. Pitcairn and the workers could study, review and embellish their ideas before actually constructing them.

Another aspect of the cathedral which is unusual is that asymmetries and irregularities were planned into the building as it was built. This is largely the result of Pitcairn's attendance at a 1915 lecture by William Goodyear who stated that irregularities and asymmetries in medieval buildings were not errors but were carefully planned in the structures. The design is a mixture of architectural styles, primarily European Gothic and Romanesque.

The building incorporates master craftsmanship in stained glass, metalwork, stone carving, and wood carving, and is tied to a continuing study and practice of those arts today in the Sacred Arts program.

The stained glass windows of Bryn Athyn Cathedral are worthy of note. The medieval method of creating stained glass was revived and reinvented. The first glass was blown in 1922 and the last was created in the 1940s, however all the windows themselves were not completed till the 1960s. The nave ground floor contains grisaille-style windows, while the clerestory shows scenes from the Old Testament. The chancel clerestory windows are from the New Testament, while the glass in the side chapel shows images from the Writings of the New Church.

Most of the metal in the cathedral is Monel, a nickel-copper alloy with some iron that is difficult to work. The Cathedral contains an impressive Monel screen to the side chapel, along with several stair rails and many door handles and other fixtures.

The Ezekiel Tower and Council Chamber, parts of the building located to the south of the nave, were built between the years 1920 and 1926. The Choir Hall and Michael Tower lie to the north of the nave. This addition was completed in 1929, although other parts of the building, including a cloister, remain unfinished.

The Cathedral is part of the Bryn Athyn Historic District, which was listed as a National Historic Landmark on October 7, 2008. Also included are two adjacent buildings, the Cairnwood Mansion where John Pitcairn lived, and the Glencairn Museum, a castle built by Raymond Pitcairn to house the religious art he collected to inspire the craftsmen who built the Cathedral. All three buildings are open to the public on certain days. For more information, see here:
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Bryn Athyn Cathedral Reviews
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  • Wonderful day trip spent in the historical district of Bryn Athyn. We enjoyed touring two homes, one built to resemble a castle filled with museum artifacts that rival city museums and the other a bea...  more »
  • I have visited churches all over the world. This one makes the top 10 listed. It is the most beautiful church in Pennsylvania in my opinion. The architect is stunning. The landscaping is stunning. We ...  more »
  • I love coming here to get away from the Hustle and bustle of the city. The Cathedral and surrounding grounds are such a tranquil place to sit and read a book, bask in the sun, or go on a tour of the cathedral and mansion.
  • My sister and I love to come here to see the incredible views, art, craftmanship, and history. It's so peaceful to walk the grounds. Amazing story of the faith of the people of the New Church. Highly recommended!

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