Sweeney’s Booknotes: Puritan Meetinghouses

Peter Benes, puritan architecturePeter Benes, Meetinghouses of Early New England (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012).

This book barely mentions Edwards, but demands to be perused by Edwards scholars nonetheless. It offers a detailed history of the architecture, furniture, ornaments, seating, even the painting of New England’s early, storied meeting houses, more than 2,200 in all, from the time of the first pilgrims to about 1830—including Edwards’ own buildings in Northampton and, later, Stockbridge.

These structures were employed, of course, for purposes other than worship. They housed civic meetings, criminal trials, ammunition, wounded soldiers, and served numerous other functions, spiritual and secular. Their religious purposes, though, proved to be the most important to their design and in the lives of most of the people who would use them.

Benes shows us all of this, telling the history of these buildings and explaining the significance of New England’s “vernacular” tradition of architecture.

Those who have read and used Horton Davies, The Worship of the American Puritans, 1629-1730 (1990) will appreciate this volume on the material surroundings and supports of Puritan liturgy–and on the things they tell us about their worshipers’ priorities.

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