Church of St. James the Less, 3200 West Clearfield Street, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA
Significance: Built between 1846 and 1848, St. James the Less is the first pure example of a Medieval Parish Church in the United States. It is also the first church to be inspired by, and constructed under the supervision of, the English Ecclesiological (late Cambridge Camden) Society, a highly influential group dedicated to reviving Medieval ritual and church design.
An intimate and exquisitely beautiful church, St. James the Less is a superb reproduction of St. Michael's, Longstanton in Cambridgeshire, built ca. 1230. Measured drawings of St. Michael's were executed by English architect G.G. Place. By providing plans for the church as well as technical assistance regarding its furnishings and ornamentation, the Ecclesiological Society was highly instrumental in the erection of St. James the Less in its present form. Construction was supervised by Philadelphia architect John E. Carver, along with founder and building committee leader Robert Ralston, whose vision and financial backing made the erection of the church possible.
The authenticity of St. James the Less's undisguised materials and structure with its massive granite walls and buttresses, oak trussed ceiling, stone arcade and pillars surpassed previous Gothic Revival churches in America. Moreover, unprecedented liturgical and stylistic correctness was achieved first and foremost by its clearly articulated chancel and symmetrical design, as well as High Church elements including the prominent marble altar, richly carved choir stalls and pews, spectacular glass windows, and metal rood screen embedded with semiprecious stones.
St. James the Less's simple nave plan provided the most suitable prototype yet to appear for America's rapidly emerging suburban and rural Episcopal parishes, and stimulated a parish church revival throughout the country. Prominent architects Richard Upjohn and Frank Wills produced numerous churches based on St. James the Less. Later, as the American frontier expanded, the design inspired by St. James the Less traveled farther west. Although the design became modified in its passage, its essential elements continue to influence small church design even today.
Unprocessed Field note material exists for this structure: N326
Survey number: HABS PA-1725
Building/structure dates: 1846- 1848 Initial Construction
National Register of Historic Places NRIS Number: 74001801