Thursday Doors – Christ Church Cathedral

Side Entrance

Many people have shared photos of older buildings (usually churches) that stand today, surrounded by modern skyscrapers in a busy downtown area of a city. I have often commented that one of my favorite buildings is located in a similar setting. Last week, I had the opportunity to take some photos of that building. While looking into the history, I was surprised to learn about a period in Connecticut’s history. The form nominating Christ Church Cathedral to the National Registry of Historic Places, includes:

The new state constitution of 1818 disestablished the Congregational Church in Connecticut. The Episcopal Church and other denominations grew rapidly in the favorable atmosphere created by the disestablishment. Christ Church, built within a decade of the new religious freedom in Connecticut, reflects the changing religious order in the state.”

“Disestablishment …?” My curiosity was piqued.

Connecticut is known as The Constitution State, because the Constitution of 1818 is generally accepted as the earliest document of its kind in America. But, Connecticut started as a religious colony, governed by “The Fundamental Orders.” Keeping in mind the history I was taught as a child – that the people who settled the original US colonies were fleeing England in search of religious freedom – my brief study of the Fundamental Orders was a bit of a shock. This is from Wikipedia (I know, I know):

Connecticut was founded by Congregationalists who split away from the Massachusetts colony between 1635 and 1636. The first settlers founded three towns on the Connecticut River in Windsor, Wethersfield, and Hartford. One of the main purposes of the Fundamental Orders was to formalize the relationship among these three towns. The core foundation of the Fundamental Orders incorporates the ingrained religious background of the colony’s founders

Until 1818, the Congregational Church stood as the established church of the state. All Connecticut residents were required to attend church and pay taxes to support the Congregational faith. Anyone belonging to another Christian sect, such as Baptist, Episcopal, or Quaker, had to provide documentation signed by a church officer indicating attendance and financial support of their separate church in order to avoid paying taxes to the Congregationalists.”


Sorry for that diversion into the history of my adopted state. Now, back to the cathedral.

Christ Church Cathedral is the cathedral church of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut. The cathedral was designed by Ithiel Town, and is one of the earliest known examples of Gothic Revival architecture in the United States. It was built between 1827 and 1829, although many modifications and additions have been completed since. The brownstone structure is divided into three sections by a large tower (the tower was completed in 1839). Each section has a doorway set in a two-story Gothic-arched recess, with a window above.

The diocese offices are located in an addition that also houses the chancel, chapel, and parish offices. The addition was built in 1879. Behind that, at the rear of the church property is a 2 ½-story chapter house that was constructed in 1917. All the buildings are constructed with brownstone, quarried in Portland, CT about 20 miles south of Hartford.

The sides of the church are five bays deep, with buttresses separating Gothic-arched windows, and brownstone finials at intervals along the roof line. The finial details are repeated at the top of the tower.

Of course, we’re here to talk about the doors, I have included a wonderful summary of the main doors (from the NRHP nomination form). I added an illustration to explain that summary:

The Tudor arch has a “squashed” (symbolizing weight) appearance vs. the Pointed arch of the window.

These are double doors with two vertical panels containing Gothic tracery in each. The doors are framed in a molded four-centered or Tudor arch. Spandrels and the transom above the doors exhibit tracery. Equilateral or pointed arched windows above each doorway have perpendicular tracery derived from English 15th-century with a heavy bowtell or roll molding. Above this is a hood terminating in stops sculpted in the form of human faces.”

If you are seeking architectural freedom, the Thursday Doors Colony (TDC) is the place to go. Founded by Norm Frampton, TDC accepts doors of all design, construction, material, color and condition. You are welcome, but not required, to participate every Thursday and there are no taxes. To join the colony, simply head to Norm’s settlement. Check out his doors and look for the blue frog. Click on that little tadpole, to add your doors or view doors from all over the world.

The gallery is larger today, as it includes additional photos from the NRHP nomination form.


  1. Hi Dan, first of all the photos and history are wonderful. Secondly, the religious history does not surprise me. What I find astounding about religious history in this country that those people in essence defected from their own countries because of religious and/or political oppression then came here, set up their own churches and began the cycle all over again. I often think Pavlov had his focus set on the wrong species.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Ha ha – I don’t know, Cheryl. Some days, if I had to choose between working with people or working with dogs…

      I was reading that and I was thinking: “wait a minute, why did you guys come here in the first place?” And what’s really funny is that they broke away from the colony in Massachusetts for the same reason!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m not sure what to call those little steeples that line the side of the church and match the main town, but I really like them with their little crosses on top.

    I think we tend to forget that there was a time that the church controlled things and held great power over the people in its community. To be ostracized by the church was a serious blow to an individual and their family.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Joanne. I was surprised to see how recently those laws were changed. I know it’s 200 years ago, but in the grand scheme of things, that’s not that long ago.

      The little things are Finials. I know that because spellcheck kept trying to change it to “final” (which makes no sense in context). and they were added to the top of the buttresses and the tower, after the buttresses were extended in one of the later renovations.


    • Thanks Judy. I like the original doors on the main entrance, but I understand why they added some with windows. I’ve been in this church several times, and it really does feel like going back in time a little.

      One can only imagine Twitter in 1637 ;-)


    • Thanks for that. I remembered that there was a word like that, but I wasn’t familiar with it. I was long out of the Spelling Bees before they got to those words.

      I think the architects would be happy with your comment. In reading the NRHP nomination form. I saw lots of references to things where they “were inspired by” ” were modeled after” “attempted to copy” elements from famous churches in England.


  3. I was enthralled by the gallery, Dan. THANK YOU!! And thank you for another history lesson. What jumped out at me before you said WOW was the fact, taxes were involved with the Congregational Church and people who did not attend this church had to prove they did not in order to avoid the taxes. Unbelievable! I’ve mentioned this before but it bears repeating. I was under the notion that the colonists came here to America to avoid the heavy taxes Great Britain was imposing upon them. Hmmmmm ….. Really enjoyed this post today! I can tell you are feeling better. Have a great day!! ☺️

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Amy. I always laugh when I think about how they were breaking away from England yet they names half our towns the same as English towns or things like “New London” or “New Britain” – I work in Glastonbury. It seems that it wasn’t so much that they didn’t like rules, but that they wanted to be the ones making the rules.

      I am feeling better – thank you.

      It’s funny, I was forced to pull over early last Friday on my way to my barber, so that a large truck could make the turn at an intersection. I realized that I could park for a few minutes and get some pictures of the Cathedral. Some days, we get lucky (I know you know that).

      Liked by 1 person

      • When you don’t know any different it makes sense the Colonists would do what they do. Perhaps they were secretly homesick. And yes I do know all about getting lucky! ☺️


  4. Church Street…how perfect is that. I am so glad you explained ‘disestablishment’ because that word stopped me in my tracks. This was some kind of religious freedom….In the Catholic church, it is a pretty big deal to have a church upgraded (so to speak) to a cathedral. We have two in my town (not a big town, either), and they are both very, very old. This one is much more ornate, though. I am such a fan. Great post, Dan.

    Liked by 1 person

    • IT’s actually at the corner of Church and Main. The Congregational Church is up the street, on Main. There is another Episcopal cathedral in New Haven, CT which is about 45 miles south. But, in the early 1800s, 45 miles was a powerful long distance. I’ve been in this cathedral a number of times, and it is a special kind of beautiful.

      I had the same reaction to ‘disestablishment’ – after I looked it up.


  5. Dan – alphabetically disestablishment comes after datestablishment. We can discuss the fine points Saturday. I am heading there now to contemplate whether or not I have enough patience to start a ‘bizarre Thursday’ column. Good doors, strange tax, and at the moment I am all out of coffee. I think I will use the time between now and Saturday trying to convince Linda that the inspiration word for SOCS should be ‘anusive’.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Wendy. It really is a beautiful building. The link at the bottom is to a picture of the building directly across the street.

      I hope it’s here to stay. I’ve been inside, and it’s really is beautiful.


  6. I did know the general outlines of that history you mentioned and it happened in other colonies as well. Heck, it happens today in politics! At any rate, I enjoyed the history, doors, and general photos. Seems we have a church theme going today–you, Joanne, Norm, and maybe others I haven’t read yet. :-)


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Janet. Churches are always good hunting for doors. I didn’t know much about the religious history of CT, but it was fun reading about it. I love Thursday Doors for the things I learn, as well as the things I see.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Dan – the ‘controlling feature of a group’ travelled with them. I’m glad the Cathedral is still there and that the history can be found … interesting to read – far too early to think about long words though!! Cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Lots of interesting background info in this post. It sounds very similar to how things were controlled here in New France by the Catholic Church. Except here the local priest would come by in person and rich or poor: everyone was expected to fork over their 10% of what they made. Plus the lady of the house would be chastised if she hadn’t performed her marital duty to produce a child for her husband that year.
    I know, I know, don’t get me started!
    Religious oppression aside, the architecture of the building is wonderful. It really looks like it could have been plucked from somewhere in Europe.
    Great post Dan. I’m off now to ponder on how we could start collecting taxes for #ThursdayDoors :-D

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Norm. I suppose you could go the route of the NFL and trademark the term and charge us to use it. Wait, where’s the backspace key?

      The church was modeled after several prominent churches in England. The tower from here, the window from there, etc. I think the goal was to incorporate the best elements possible.

      One interesting bit was that the Chancel was added later, along with the parish hall. They didn’t include it initially, because they didn’t want the building to look like a Roman Catholic church. I’m not sure we will ever get past some of these issues.


  9. Great post! What an interesting, stunning building. I like everything about it. The tower. The finials. All entrances. The windows. And here this building, that looks like it belongs in England, is smack snuggled in the middle of towering buildings of modern architecture, and it works!!

    Great history lesson too. I have never been able to wrap my head around the fact that people came here, at great peril, to be free of the oppression they endured in Europe, only to set up shop the same way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Ginger. It does work, and I think most people like having this cathedral in Hartford. There’s still something to be said about being the head of the diocese.

      The history really leaves me shaking my head. You put it so well. I couldn’t agree more.


  10. Growing up with the Dutch Reformed history, I’m not understanding why you were shocked reading the Fundamental Orders? is it about paying tithes (taxes)?
    Sorry, am totally preoccupied with that – your doors are nice too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think the thing that gets was summarized best by Ginger in her comment (above):

      “I have never been able to wrap my head around the fact that people came here, at great peril, to be free of the oppression they endured in Europe, only to set up shop the same way.”

      That’s why I was shocked.


  11. I’ve seen the word “tracery” used in descriptions, but had no idea what it meant.

    “… in order to avoid paying taxes to the Congregationalists.” Those early Congregationalists would give midwestern Presbyterians, known for their obsession with finances, a run for their money, so to speak. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Jennie. I was shocked to read about that. It just doesn’t make much sense. Oh well, I always like it when I learn something. The church is a favorite. I was in it a number of times when I worked in Hartford.


  12. I did know that the people who founded colonies in search of religious freedom generally meant freedom for THEMSELVES, not freedom for anybody else. Humans, eh? Gorgeous church! Thanks for the architecture details. I love that stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! It seems to still be the case that the people who shout the loudest about wanting more religious freedom are only referring to their religion. The architect(s) who worked on this church over time seemed to be very concerned about the details. It’s amazing to see changes and additions, over a 100-year period, all keeping to the original design and material.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Fantastic post, Dan. Love the Gothic revival. I mean, who doesn’t? Round here, it’s an architectural delicacy. The doors are made worthy. Spot on.
    I actually liked that history tidbit on the Congregationalists. I’d read some things alluding to matters of this sort, but this was the first time I’d gotten any real information not as a part of historical fiction, and truly, that’s shocking, but then not, but then really shocking. I’m glad you added it.
    Also, the bit about architectural freedom, lol — I always enjoy your blips about Norm :)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks – I’m glad you enjoyed this. I was worried I was going too far off on a tangent, but it seemed important to the story of this Cathedral. I’ve been in this church several times, it’s so interesting, it’s hard to pay attention to the service – there’s so much to look at.

      I didn’t grow up here, so I never learned the history of CT as I did learn about Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh. Reading how they spent almost 200 years living under the kind of religious rule they left England to escape made me shake my head a bit.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. It’s gorgeous! The original doors are fantastic, but the new main entrance doors are lovely too.

    I’m always surprised when reminded how our early ancestors, and settlers here were so rigid and strict when it came to their religion. The premise was supposed to be religious freedom, but I guess that had a different meaning then. I’m glad we’re not required to pay that tax anymore!

    I was wondering while looking through the old images, and your images if there are any stone masons around that can build such magnificent structures anymore? To think they built this without the tools we have today is mind boggling.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ugh, I just lost my reply 🙁

      In 1985, I was working in Lowell, MA. They were restoring a canal as part of a national park around the mill system. They had to bring masons out of retirement (some from Italy) to help restore the canal walls.

      The brownstone for this church and so many other Hartford buildings cane from Portland, CT. Those quarries are long since closed. Just getting stoned from there to Hartford at that time had to be difficult. Portland is about 20 miles south, but on the other side of the CT River.

      The taxes made a little sense, in that the church functioned like the government does today. But having an official church for the state is a little scary.

      I do like the original doors, but I can understand adding ones with some glass. The entrance faces due east, and with a tall building on the south side, the interior can get pretty dark.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. It was rather shocking to me to find this strange “disestablishing” of churches and I was upset that one of my Mom’s favorite places of learning (Hartford elementary school years, I really East Hartford but I imagine it’s church system imitated that of Hartford (?) ) was included in the trio of cities. What a travesty!
    Anyway, I loved the red doors on the side entrance with beckoning black rod iron gate open and the black and white pictures were beautiful, Dan.
    I appreciate your investigation into this Christ Church and wonder what made rules and regulations become a “way of life” in the New World, one century into their arrival?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Actually, the rules of the New World mirrored those of the world they left (to avoid similar rules), and lasted here for almost 200 years. We did away with them in 1818, but I’m sure there are still some who say that was a mistake. Very often today, it sems like the people who speak the loudest about religious freedom are only speaking about their religion.

      In nay case, the Cathedral is beautiful. Thanks for stopping by.


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