The Invisible Text: Reading Between the Lines of Frank Wills's Treatise, Ancient English Ecclesiastical Architecture

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ABSTRACT The English-born Anglican ecclesiastical architect and writer, Frank Wills (1822-1857), was a pioneering transmitter of ecclesiological Gothic Revival church architecture in Canada and the United States, yet he remains a relatively unknown figure in architectural historiography. This study examines the principal blind-spots in Wills?s architectural career with the aim of inferring explanations for the existence of these obstacles, together with their impact on his position among his peers as a leading ecclesiological architect and writer in North America both then and now. These blind-spots, represented by three unelaborated or untold stories relating to interconnected aspects of Frank Wills?s design career (architectural, liturgical, and professional), are revealed through a ?reading between the lines? of his architectural treatise, Ancient English Ecclesiastical Architecture and Its Principles, Applied to the Wants of the Church at the Present Day. In a comparison of what is currently known about the architect to the content of his book, an ?invisible text? is rendered visible by missing or incomplete material. Additional writings by Frank Wills on his architectural theory are examined through the organ of the New York Ecclesiological Society, the New York Ecclesiologist, as are his critical reviews of his peers? church designs. Reviews of Wills?s own work and reputation are examined through the English Ecclesiological Society?s journal, the Ecclesiologist, together with other contemporary religious and architectural publication. This study indicates that regional attitudes toward architectural style, liturgical differences in the Anglican and Episcopal Church systems, and issues of ego and architectural authorship comprised the nature of these obstacles merely hinted at in the pages of Wills?s treatise, each instance locating this otherwise successful and ambitious architect in an outsider position. Finally, professional rivalries that existed between Wills and fellow Gothic Revivalist, Richard Upjohn, find Frank Wills?s North American architectural career further marginalized in current architectural historiography.

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Mary N. Woods Michael Tomlan


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Frank Wills; Ecclesiology; Cambridge Camden Society; New York Ecclesiological Society; Bishop John Medley; Fredericton cathedral; St. Peter's Church, Philadelphia; Richard Upjohn; Gothic Revival; Ancient English Ecclesiastical Architecture


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dissertation or thesis

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