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Saint Joseph-the-Carpenter


Two years ago Howard Tabor took a walk. It was the early evening of Election Day and he’d become stressed by too many talking heads repeating themselves without end. So Howard and his dog Digger strolled over to claim three pints of green tomato chutney from Aunt Phyllis.

On the way home, he was seized by the beauty of Agincourt’s Episcopal church, St. Joseph-the-Carpenter. Gerry Leiden and the choir were rehearsing the Christmas “Festival of Lessons and Carols” and their harmonies wafted through open doors across a smokey autumn landscape. Howard and Digger slipped into a back pew and gave themselves over to reverie. Oddly, his column on Saturday dealt with architecture; not a word about election results. I wonder where he’ll be tomorrow night.


I knew Agincourt would have an Episcopal church. The Power of their Glory, a book about the disproportional role of Episcopalians in America’s political and economic life, joked that “Episcopal isn’t a denomination; it’s an income tax bracket.” The humor has some basis in fact. But what to name the parish? “High Church” or Anglo-Catholic Episcopalians have been on my radar for thirty-plus years I’ve investigated North Dakota’s fieldstone churches from the 1880s. So I toyed with St. Mary-the-Virgin or Transfiguration, or English saints like Aidan, Swithin or Chad. Then it occurred to me that Papists give plenty of air time to Joseph, the foster father, while Anglicans practically ignore him. Why not St. Joseph-the-Carpenter?

It was an interesting but (I thought) unusual choice–until a quick google check proved there’s already a church bearing that dedication in the Bay Area. Still, the association with a foster parent, a man who worked with his hands, offered direction for my design: this was likely to be a building of the 1870s and I was anxious to work in a “Carpenter Gothic”/”Gothic Revival” vocabulary.

St. Joe’s evolved as a three-stage design: 1) an 1878 original, perhaps by popular East Coast architect Henry Dudley; 2) an 1898 expansion by Des Moines architects Proudfoot & Bird (yes, they’re real); and 3) a chapel added in 1915 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. That last phase would also be an opportunity to involve Anson Tennant just before sailing on the Lusitania.

Buildings are rarely complete at their outset. Why should this one be different?

Part 2

1 Comment

  1. […] are great from the beginning. Others grow into their greatness. Agincourt’s Episcopal church, St Joseph-the-Carpenter, belongs in the latter […]

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