Pointed Principles

From the November 2014 Print Edition

Imperial Gothic: Religious Architecture and High Anglican Culture in the British Empire, ?c. 1840–70?
by g. a. bremner
?yale, 364 pages, $95
Over the course of a few years in the 1840s, the colonial architecture of high-church Anglicanism progressed from timorous neo-gothic copyism to uninhibited invention. The results could be staggering: for example, the mission church at Otaki, New Zealand (1848–54), a Gothic-Maori hybrid that hoisted its roof on three massive tree trunks and decked out its walls with woven Maori panels and hammerhead shark motifs. It is as complete an example of architectural syncretism as one can hope to find. And yet just a few years earlier, Anglican missionaries had been making timid facsimiles of thirteenth-century Gothic churches, copied nervously line for line and molding for molding. How this came to pass, not only in New Zealand but throughout the British Empire, is the subject of G. A. Bremner’s superb Imperial Gothic, the first comprehensive study of the missionary and colonial policy of the Anglican Church and how it expressed itself in church-building during the Victorian era. A great wave of colonial church-building was unleashed in 1841 with the creation of the Colonial Bishoprics Fund, established to help support new colonial bishoprics. Prior to this, the overseas hierarchy of the Anglican Church was loose and undeveloped. Colonial churches were nominally under the aegis of the bishop of London, and not until after the American Revolution were any overseas dioceses established (in part because of fears that other denominations might be offended). The Colonial Bishoprics Fund changed this in short order. There followed eleven new dioceses, beginning with New Zealand (1841); then Antigua, Guiana, Tasmania, and Gibraltar (1842); Colombo and New Brunswick, Canada (1845); and Cape Town, Adelaide, Melbourne, and New South Wales (1847). Within scarcely half a decade, the ecclesiastical hierarchy of the Anglican Church was transformed from an insular to a global enterprise. Continue Reading »