One Hundred Years Ago Today: The Dedication of Bryn Athyn Cathedral

Glencairn Museum News | Number 10, 2019

This special dedication key was designed by Parke E. Edwards and crafted from Monel metal. One side references both the date of the dedication of Bryn Athyn Cathedral (October 5, 1919) and the date of the cornerstone laying ceremony (June 19, 1914). On the reverse side is a Latin quotation by Emanuel Swedenborg (Figure 7). On dedication day this key was presented by Raymond Pitcairn, in his capacity as donor, to Bishop Nathaniel D. Pendleton, who received it on behalf of the Bryn Athyn Church congregation during a special service at the Cathedral.

Figure 1: Bryn Athyn Cathedral dedication service reservation cards were distributed before the event. Entrance was through the west door.

William Whitehead, a professor of history at the Academy of the New Church schools who witnessed the dedication of Bryn Athyn Cathedral, wrote about the event and its impact: “Perhaps the deepest impression made upon us by this Service of Dedication was through the perception that the long years of spiritual depression and anxiety—states induced both by the greatest war in history [World War One] and by the pangs of transition from one generation to another . . . had failed to destroy our faith. The prison of the years was at last broken. The famine of despair no longer weakened our energies. A sense of happiness and satisfaction flowed into all our minds, as it seemed from heaven” (William Whitehead, “Impressions of the Dedication Service,” New Church Life 1919, 748).

Raymond Pitcairn, in his capacity as donor, presented a special dedication key made from Monel metal (see lead photo and Figure 7) to Bishop Nathaniel D. Pendleton during the morning dedication service. Pitcairn had been chosen by a committee in 1913 to oversee the Cathedral’s construction, and it was his father, John Pitcairn, who had funded the project. Construction on the building continued after the dedication—well into the 1920s—but the nave and chancel were ready to be used by the congregation by October of 1919. 

Programs were printed for the elaborate eight-part dedication service, which began on Sunday morning, October 5, with a large procession. Twenty-five ministers walked along the outside of the south side of the building, while the choir proceeded along the outside of the north side. They met at the west door, entered the building, and walked up the nave along with members of the board of finance for the Bryn Athyn Church.

Figure 2: The “service of praise,” one of three events held at Bryn Athyn Cathedral on October 5, 1919, was held in the evening.

Figure 3: A program was printed for the elaborate eight-part dedication service.

Figure 4: The procession of ministers outside the west door of Bryn Athyn Cathedral. This photo likely shows the procession leaving the church at the end of the service.

Figure 5: The interior of the Cathedral’s key cabinet. The cabinet itself was carved by woodworker Jon Alley in the 1970s.

Rev. Gilbert H. Smith, Rev. Homer Synnestvedt, Rev. Alfred Acton, and Rev. George de Charms read from the Bible. Bishop Emeritus William F. Pendleton then delivered a sermon, which was followed by an introduction to the dedication portion of the service given by Bishop Nathaniel D. Pendleton. Raymond Pitcairn then gave an “address of presentation,” and presented the Bishop with the key to the Cathedral’s west door:

“We who have wrought upon the building know full well that all that which is good comes from the Lord alone. We have been happy and had honor in His service, and see therein His doing and fulfillment of His will.

EXCEPT THE LORD BUILD THE HOUSE,
THEY LABOR IN VAIN THAT BUILD IT.

By virtue of the trust imposed upon me by my father, and by the members of this Church, I declare, in the ears of this Assembly, and before the Lord, that this building and the land whereon it stands belong henceforth to the Bryn Athyn Church of the New Jerusalem, and they are subject to its sole control. This document is the written declaration of my trust. And with affection that fills the hearts of all whose love and labor were bestowed upon this work, and for my father, who is here in spirit, I give to you as Pastor of the Church this key, and with the key possession of this house, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (New Church Life 1919: 739).

The key was designed by Parke E. Edwards, head of the metal department at Pitcairn’s Bryn Athyn Studios. It was made from Monel, an alloy of mainly nickel and copper. An inscription around the handle records the date of the dedication as well as the earlier date of the cornerstone laying ceremony on June 19, 1914 (see lead photo and Figures 5-7). (For an article about the 1914 cornerstone ceremony, see this 2014 issue of Glencairn Museum News.)

Figure 6: The key cabinet in Bryn Athyn Cathedral. Each of the keys is unique, illustrating a design principle that was employed throughout the Cathedral. In 1920 Raymond Pitcairn delivered a speech titled, “Christian Art and Architecture in the New Church.” In it he describes “the perfection of variety” in which “all things conspire to one end” (New Church Life 1920: 618).

Figure 7: The reverse side of the key to the west door is inscribed with a passage in Latin from True Christian Religion (n. 508), a work by the Swedish theologian Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772): Nunc licet intellectualiter intrare in Arcana fidei. (“Now it is permitted to enter with the understanding into the mysteries of faith.”)

 

Figure 8: Bishop Emeritus William F. Pendleton (left) stands beside his brother, Bishop Nathaniel D. Pendleton, on dedication day.

 

One of the photographs taken during the day shows Bishop Emeritus William F. Pendleton, the first bishop of the General Church of the New Jerusalem, standing beside his brother Bishop Nathaniel D. Pendleton (Figure 8). Nathaniel succeeded William as bishop following his retirement in 1915. The Pendleton family came from southern Georgia, and William served as a Confederate captain during the Civil War. Their father, Philip Coleman Pendleton, also served, and it was during this time that another soldier introduced Philip to the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg.

 

Figure 9: The interior of Bryn Athyn Cathedral on October 5, 1919. (In the early days of photography pictures were often taken using long exposures.)

 

Figure 10: People mingling outside the west door of the Cathedral on October 5, 1919.

Figure 11: Another view of the west entrance of the Cathedral.

Figure 12: Public Ledger article from October 6, 1919, featuring a photograph of the newly dedicated Cathedral and an inset photograph of Bishop Emeritus William F. Pendleton and Bishop Nathaniel D. Pendleton.

For the past 100 years, from the day of its dedication to the present, Bryn Athyn Cathedral has remained an active place of worship. The original vision of those who designed and built this remarkable structure seems to have been realized. Raymond Pitcairn attempted to describe that vision in his address at the dedication service: “In thought we saw the building finished—a cathedral church made part and parcel of the life of all the people…Within, babes would be brought to be baptized, and youths and maidens would confess their faith, and be betrothed, and wed. In sorrow and in joy, in life and death, the Church would minister to childhood, youth and age, of generations yet unborn” (New Church Life 1919: 737).

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