Meeting House: An International and Interdisciplinary Conference on Protestant Dissenting Architecture and Culture


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The visual character of the Protestant meeting-house and chapel was influenced by a complex of interrelated factors. These included vernacular building methods and materials, prevailing architectural styles and tastes, the congregations’ visual sensibility, practical expedience, theological restrictions, liturgical requirements, economics, social structure, indigenous and prevailing culture, and national, geographical, and historical contexts. This conference gave an account of the visual and religious significance of the meeting-house and chapel informed by a wide-range of disciplines and methodologies, including architectural history and theory, art history, visual and cultural studies, the fine and applied arts, furniture history, ecclesiastical history, theology, biblical and religious studies, hymnology, rhetoric and homiletics, social and political history, social geography, and archive management. In this way, the conference provided a meeting place for scholars and practitioners from different fields to exchange ideas and concerns. The anticipated outcome was a more extensive and multifaceted understanding of the subject than has been possible hitherto. The conference comprised contributions by distinguished invited speakers from Great Britain, the United States of America, and Europe, and from responses to this call for papers; together with hands-on experience of Nonconformist buildings and artefacts. Papers were invited under 9 topics:

Architecture and Religion

Distinctions and similarities between the Dissenting and Nonconformist chapel and Established and Roman Catholic Church architecture since the eighteenth century. Chapels considered in relation to the broader historical tradition of European and British ecclesiastical architecture. Denominational distinctives in terms of architectural style and plans. A comparison of Calvinistic and Lutheran conceptions of the place of worship. Word-orientated worship: chapels and synagogues compared.

Theology, Liturgy, and Church History

Form and content: the impact of theological and liturgical considerations on chapel design. The Reformation and Puritan conception of the place of worship. Architectural revivals and theological decline. Religious images in the place of worship. Rhetoric and architecture. Religious symbolism and biblical allusions in the architecture and decorative elaborations of Dissenting architecture. The concept of the sacred building in the Old and New Testaments the significance and use of chapel names.

Architecture, Art, and TasteĀ 

Colonisation and adaptation: the meeting house, early chapels, and vernacular buildings. The historical evolution of architectural style. Classicism: the rhetoric of architecture. Chapels and debate surrounding a Christian architectural style. Architectural eclecticism and Postmodernity. The influence of prevailing architectural trends on chapels since the eighteenth century. A comparison between chapel architecture and civic, industrial, and railway buildings. The builders and architects of Nonconformity. Skills and materials. ‘Tin-Tabs’ and mission halls. Form and function in the architectural design of chapels: ground plans, structure, and sub-divisions. Architectural lettering. The application of the decorative arts: stained glass, wrought iron work, stencilling, lettering, and other embellishments. Dissenting aesthetics: visualizing spiritual values and ideals. The pertinence building and decorators’ manuals, year books, and chapel histories to an understanding of chapel architecture.

Utility and Expedience

The music box: considerations in the design of chapels for singing, orchestras, and organs. Analogical correspondences between the structure of hymns, sermons, services, and chapel architecture. The preaching box: the implications of public speaking for the acoustics, size, ground plan, pulpit, and galleries of the chapel. Chapels and theatres: staging religious drama, pageants, and tableau vivants. Chapels and education: the design of the Sunday schoolroom. Considerations in the design of the vestry and vestibule, baptisteries, pulpits, pews, and the Lord’s Table: chapel furnishings and the accoutrements of worship. Devices for the heating, illumination, and ventilation of chapels and their impact on interior and exterior design and layout. Entrances and exits: facilitating safety and the access and departure of congregations. The vestry as a context for customs of greetings and farewells.

New Nonconformity

Pentecostal and charismatic churches: new modes of worship and their implication for the interior layout of the place of worship. Without architecture: the house church movement and the revival of Early-Church worship. Evangelicalism, Neo-Puritanism, and the place of worship. Contemporary denominational architecture. New wine in old wine skins: adapting historical buildings to meet the needs of contemporary congregations.

Representation

The visual representation of chapels since the eighteenth century: documentation and interpretation. Art as research: the use of photography, drawing, and painting to embody knowledge and understanding. The depiction of chapels in film and literature (including novels, poetry, biographies, and historical monographs on chapels). Chapel and landscape. The chapel as cultural and religious icon. Issues of representing chapels today: depicting dereliction, disuse, decay, and doubt; transcending sentiment and nostalgia; formal and abstract approaches to rendering chapels; Postmodernity and architectural representation. Historical precedents: the representation of Protestant churches in seventeenth century Holland. Architectural drawings and artists’ impressions of chapels.

Preservation

Why should chapels be preserved. Principles and examples of documenting, cataloguing, maintaining, and restoring chapels. The issues of selection: prioritization, quality, and uniqueness. Existing databases. Database technology. The contribution of oral history. The role of local congregations. Funding preservation. Scholarship as a means of preservation.

Congregations and Community

Architectural style and class values. Working-class attitudes chapel architecture. The segregation of the sexes in worship. Women and the maintenance and decoration of the chapel’s interior. Chapels as a context for social functions: weddings, funerals, and anniversaries. Chapels as a context for cultural events, religious festivals and services. Identity and belonging. Hierarchies of office and the concept of laity: the implications for the chapel’s ground plan and seating arrangements. Revivals and congregational growth. The funding and maintenance of chapels: patronage, income, giving, and expenditure. The significance of chapel culture at the end of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries: a comparative study.

Nations and Countries

National trends in architectural style. Architecture and nationalism. Meeting-houses in America during the colonial period. The New-England meeting-house. Chapels and Nonconformist churches in Protestant countries in Northern Europe. Huguenot church architecture in nineteenth century France. Protestant churches in Holland and Switzerland since the seventeenth century.

Meeting House Programme