Architecture Around the World

Trinty Church, Boston
206 Clarendon Street, Boston, MA 02116
Official Website



Four stained glass windows

Chancel and interior tower

See also: Celebrate Boston: Trinity Church, 1877 (online July 2013)

Date: 1879-1881


H. H. Richardson
Landscape architect:
Frederick Law Olmsted


Richardsonian Romanesque

Trinity Church, the third oldest Anglican parish in Boston, had purchased land in Boston’s recently created and newly fashionable Back Bay neighborhood. Richardson was at the time a relatively young architect. A graduate of Harvard College (Class of 1859), he was the second American architect, after Richard Morris Hunt, to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he spent the early 1860s. After he returned to the United States in 1865, he established a practice in New York City, and in subsequent years designed a number of churches, residences, office buildings, and institutional and public buildings, such as the Buffalo (New York) State Hospital, and the Hampden Country Courthouse in Springfield, Massachusetts. Although Richardson was one of six architects invited to enter the competition, he apparently enjoyed a special relationship both with Robert Treat Paine (Harvard College, Class of 1855), who chaired the Building Committee, and with Phillips Brooks (also Harvard College, Class of 1855), the rector of Trinity Church and a renowned popular preacher for whom the new auditorium was to provide an appropriate space for ecclesiastical oratory.

However, soon after Richardson was chosen as the winning architect, Trinity purchased an adjacent triangular plot, creating a trapezoidal lot at the corner of what is now Boston’s Copley Square. Richardson quickly modified his plans, as shown in a small autograph ink sketch (photo), to achieve the present distinctive siting of the church, shaped as a Greek cross with eastern apse, and the parish house, linked to it by a cloister.

Further modifications included reducing the height of the tower, which was judged too heavy for the wooden pilings and landfill on which Back Bay was built. In an inspired choice, Richardson substituted a lower, square tower modeled on that of Old Cathedral of Salamanca, Spain (photo), which at that time he knew only from pictures. The completed church, with interior decoration by John La Farge and assistants, was dedicated in February 1877, and remains one of the most admired American buildings.

In building Trinity Church Richardson established his own reputation as one of America’s foremost architects, as well as creating the architectural style known after him as Richardsonian Romanesque. Derived from French Romanesque architecture of the twelfth century, the style emphasized substantial stone or brick construction, rounded arches, and central massing, as well as finely cut brick or stonework detailing.

- Harvard's Houghton Library Blog: You've Got Mail: H. H. Richardson Sketches Trinity Church (online July 2013)

Photos and their arrangement 2013 Chuck LaChiusa
| ...Home Page ...| ..Buffalo Architecture Index...| ..Buffalo History Index... .|....E-Mail ...| ..

web site consulting by ingenious, inc.