Church renews 'gift' legacy

Landmark: St. Anne's Episcopal Church restores beauty to the building located in the heart of Maryland's capital.

October 21, 2001|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,Sun Staff

St. Anne's Church is a historic landmark in the heart of Annapolis - the city's downtown radiates from Church Circle, which surrounds St. Anne's and State Circle, which surrounds the Maryland State House several hundred yards away.

But it's also a vibrant Episcopal house of worship for a busy parish of almost 900 member households. So when it was time for renovations - spurred by long-range plans and the immediate need to fix a leaking roof- church leaders faced the challenge of preserving the building's historical heritage while improving its usefulness.

"There were two guidelines: architectural preservation and liturgical life," said John R. Price, rector of St. Anne's. "Sometimes they have something different to say," he added, but the church's building committee tried to "hold those two things in tension."

In the spring the church completed a $1.2 million renovation that church officials say made the structure more sound, the worship service more accessible and the interior more beautiful.

"There was lots of jaw-dropping when the scaffolding came down," said William C. Wilbert, a parishoner from Arnold. "It was breathtaking."

The first St. Anne's was completed in 1704 as part of the Church of England and served as the Chapel Royal for Maryland. and later the Proprietary Chapel of Maryland until the American Revolution. It was named for St. Anne, who tradition names as the mother of the Virgin Mary, and also likely for England's Queen Anne, who took the throne during its construction.

Builders began a new, larger church on the site in 1775, but the Revolutionary War and its aftermath delayed completion until 1792. The building in use was built in 1858 after a fire, caused by a new furnace, destroyed the old structure.

St. Anne's has a walnut pulpit, pews and bishop's chair. A Tiffany window from 1893 depicts St. Anne and Mary, and a large wooden carving, created in 1920, depicts Christ offering the Book of Life to humankind.

Every Sunday, the church uses a set of communion silver made in 1696 and given to the church by King William III. Each seat has an individual kneeler with a cover embroidered by a church member over the past few years.

But some improvements were necessary. A sprinkler system was the first order of business. That job moved to the front of the list when the city started repaving Church Circle, giving St. Anne's only a week to run new water lines.

Along the way, an archaeologist uncovered three sets of human remains from the days when people were buried in the churchyard. The church reinterred them when the project was done.

A new metal roof solved the leaking problem, which had left puddles on the floor and, several years ago, caused a 5-square-foot piece of plaster to fall from the ceiling. Workers also refinished the exterior woodwork on the church and its tower, which houses the city's four-faced clock.

Some of the most striking changes were to the internal decoration. Workers scraped layers of dark brown paint from the walls and the arches near the ceiling. They replaced it with new decoration in a style similar to paint schemes found underneath the last paint layers and seen in old photographs.

Seven shades of white paint highlight the three-dimensional designs on the plaster beams high above the congregation, and gold paint dresses up the decorative leaves at the bottom of the sections between the arches. A painting of sky, clouds and stars fills the ceiling above the curved east end of the church where the altar is located. A detailed stripe of a leafy pattern runs across each wall at shoulder height with gray highlights making it appear three-dimensional.

"It completely changed the interior appearance altogether," said Wllbert, who as junior warden during the renovation was the church officer responsible for facilities.

The worship space includes a new sound system and new recessed lighting. Protective laminate glass covers the stained glass windows, replacing plastic covers that grew dingy with time.

For the parish, the building "represents their faith, their community," said Price. "You can't walk into it and not have a sense you are on holy ground."

Price says even the inconveniences of the process -worshipping under scaffolding and amid the dust - "helped strengthen people's commitment to the project."

Of course, the worship space is only one element of spiritual life for St. Anne's members.

"People love this building, but they love each other more," says Price. "The commitment and vitality of the people in the pews measure the life of a congregation."

That life includes fellowship, community outreach, Sunday school, a preschool for the arts, after-school programs, working with Habitat for Humanity and a partnership with a community in Guatemala, among other things.

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