Bryn Athyn Cathedral

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Bryn Athyn Historic District

Bryn Athyn Cathedral sits in the Bryn Athyn Historic District. This National Historic Landmark District encompasses an important collection of Arts and Crafts movement architecture. The Pitcairn family founded Bryn Athyn as a religious community in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. It follows a denomination of Swedenborgianism. I visited the district and toured Glencairn with a photography group in early 2021.

The district includes three mansions built by the Pitcairn family: Cairnwood, Glencairn and Cairncrest. The Pitcairns built Cairnwood first. Today, it serves as a rental facility for weddings and other special events. Glencairn is preserved as a museum. Cairncrest functions as the church offices.

John Pitcairn Jr. built his fortune through the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company. That company became PPG industries, a Fortune 500 company. Pitcairn bought 500 acres in the 1880s in order to establish an enclave for his Swedenborgian faith. It began as The New Church and evolved into The General Church of the New Jerusalem.

Bryn Athyn Cathedral

The Boston architecture firm of Ralph Adams Cram designed the cathedral and began construction in 1913. On the outside, it resembles Gloucester Cathedral in England. John Pitcairn Jr. donated most of the funds to build the church. Raymond Pitcairn, John Pitcairn’s son, became involved with the project and eventually took charge of it.

Pitcairn arranged for the workers and artisans to be directly employed by the church. Creative changes generated by artists and builders working together were nurtured. This led to some very unorthodox construction practices. Instead of blueprints and plans, they used scale models to review and embellish their ideas before actually constructing them.

After attending a lecture by William Goodyear in 1915, Pitcairn planned asymmetries and irregularities into the building. Goodyear said that these anomalies in medieval structures were not errors, but planned into the design.

Bryn Athyn Posts

Location: 900 Cathedral Rd, Bryn Athyn, PA 19009
Designation: World Heritage Site, National Historic District
Date designated/established: 1928
Date of my visit: April 3, 2021

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