Southern Gothic: antebellum ecclesiology in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi
McNair, Michael Stephen
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The primary focus of the thesis is to examine and explain the architectural, religious, and anthropological occurrences that influenced the implementation of ecclesiology in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana in the period prior to the American Civil War in 1861. Architectural, religious, and cultural developments in the region have been considered within the context of Romanticism, Cotton Capitalism, provincial architectural taste and climatic conditions, socioeconomic placement of the gentry planter class, and the liturgical developments within the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church was the only denomination interested in the development of the Gothic Revival and the High Church influences in the largely evangelical region creates a question of purpose. Aside from liturgical requirements, issues of taste and refinement are associated with the Gothic form and are therefore associated with the educated and wealthy Episcopal congregants. This thesis examines the information beyond any existing literature and explains how and why a variation of ecclesiology was implemented in certain Episcopal parishes in the Gulf South. The methodology for creating an argument for antebellum ecclesiology concentrates on primary sources and fieldwork. The first hand accounts of both natives and travellers in the region, the reports from the clergy, and the writings from the Episcopal planter class, all infuse to create a clear understanding of the development of the Gothic Revival and the purpose, both religiously and socially, of the style. The influence of the Oxford Movement and the English ecclesiologists is also considered when evaluating the transatlantic relationship between the American Church and Southern Anglophiles in relation to the Church of England. The theological and humanistic understanding of mankind within the confines of a slave-based economy also influenced the decision of the planter class to gravitate towards the Episcopal Church and establish an architectural presence unique to their social and economic level. Ecclesiology embodied the refinement and social position of the Episcopal Church, creating a visible and psychical manifestation of High Church principles suited for the gentry slaveholding class. By examining the architectural models of the early Episcopal Church in the Gulf South, this data establishes a pattern of the Church supporting the Gothic Revival and, in some circumstances, following the principles of ecclesiology.