Cumulative Days Riding: 164 Cumulative Days Blogging: 149
Today’s Mileage: 4 Total Trip Mileage: 1107
I spent part of the morning in my first Methodist Easter service. I joined Susan at the church where she serves as the choir director. It was a beautiful service and gave me some ideas for a future blog topic on the importance of “transformation” as represented by the resurrection of Christ. I will save that for sometime in the coming week. In the mean time we have been lingering around Jacksonville Florida and there are two churches I want us to visit as pilgrimage sites.
I have labeled the first church a Historical Worship Site pilgrimage. Its history highlights what some would call part of our dark past, a past that included institutionalized racism and segregation. The church in question is the Bethel Baptist Institutional Church. In 1838 the first Baptist church was established in Jacksonville. There were six charter members, the pastor and his wife, the deacon and his wife and two slaves known as Bacchus and Peggy. The first racially mixed meetings were held in the Government Block House until a building could be constructed. The Legislative Council of the territory of Florida incorporated the Bethel Church in 1841. In 1861 the congregation moved into a new building, however a short time later the Union army captured Jacksonville and turned the church into a military hospital during the Civil War. The church was left in a “deplorable condition” when it was vacated by army troops at the end of the war.
With the end of the war an effort was made to separate the Colored and White members but an agreement could not be reached over possession of the property. The two sides went to court and the decision was made in favor of the Colored members because they represented the majority of members. However, a short time after the court decision the Colored members sold the property to their White brethren and purchased other property.
In 1868 they erected a one room wooden building where they worshiped for the next 27 years. Their White brethren went on to establish the First Baptist Church I downtown Jacksonville. In 1895, Bethel constructed the first Institutional Church building erected in the South by a Colored congregation out of red brick and Georgia marble. As the “Church History” section of their webpage notes: It was erected by Colored mechanics under the direction of Colored contractors. The fruits of their efforts were short lived as the building burned in the devastating 1901 fire that destroyed much of the city. In 1904 the current sanctuary was completed. Since 1966 the church has experienced continued growth and has significantly expanded their physical presence in the city while retaining its historical main sanctuary building. Its webpage lists some 32 different ministries!
The second church we are going to visit today represents what I call an Architectural Worship Site Pilgrimage. It is the Riverside Baptist Church of Jacksonville. In 1908 a tent meeting was held by the Home Mission of the Southern Baptist Convention with the goal of establishing a church. In 1913 the growing church built a small wooden structure for services. Like much of the Florida coast in the 1920s Jacksonville was experiencing a construction boom which fueled tremendous growth in the church. At this time the decision was made to build a new and impressive church. What happened next set the Riverside church apart from all other churches in the area.
World-famous American architect, Addison Mizner was busy building structures up and down the coast of Florida. He had never designed a church building, but had made a promise to his mother before her death that he would design one in her honor. He was offered the opportunity to design the new church with a “free license in designing the church.” He donated his effort in memory of his mother by refused any monetary compensation for his services.
The building he designed is a master piece incorporating three major design types: Romanesque, Byzantine and Spanish. Many of the design ideas, building materials and furnishing were directly influenced by his tours of European castles and cathedrals. The shape of the church is that of a Greek Cross, with a Spanish red tile roof and plaster work which was done in a way to give the impression of aged limestone blocks.
The church building has large cypress doors, three Romanesque windows and a large carved bas-relief of the baptism of Christ above the doors. The interior is spacious with a Gothic style spacious ceiling. Numerous paintings in the Fifteenth Century Italian Renaissance style adorn the ceiling and front of the balcony. The caps of the various columns are made of cast stone to give them the appearance of being had carved. Large rose stained glass windows illuminate the northern and southern transepts. Wrought iron grills, commonly used in Spanish churches, enclose the choir and bapistry.
To add a local connection to the effort Mizner included a painting by the local artist Lee Adam who was a member of the church at the time of the commission. This work entitled: Adoration of the Shepherds, used the artist’s wife as the model for the Virgin Mary. In 1973 the Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation of the National Park Service listed Riverside Baptist Church on the National Register of Historical Places.
I believe that both of these churches speak to a process of transformation. In the first case we have a group of people over come prejudice and natural disasters to rise up and become a powerful presence in their community. In the second case we have congregation who trusted in the creative process of a master architect, who transformed a small sliver of the New World into a sacred memorial to the artistic forces that shaped the European religious experience of their ancestors.
I hoped you enjoyed that visit to these two special sites and that everyone celebrating Easter had a wonderful and joyous holiday!
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