Christ Church is among the masterworks of the architect Henry Vaughan (1845-1917), whose work for schools and churches helped inspire the Gothic Revival in the United States and shape the nation's idea of how a church building ought to look.
Born and trained in England, Vaughan immigrated to the United States in 1881 and established an architectural practice in Boston. Among Vaughan’s first commissions in this country was the Chapel of St Peter and St Paul at St Paul's School in Concord, N.H.; his last, working with G.F. Bodley, was the Cathedral of St Peter & St Paul (the National Cathedral) in Washington, D.C. (although the cathedral's final form bears the stamp of Philip Frohman, who assumed the role of supervising architect after Vaughan's death). Vaughan was a master of the Gothic Revival movement which first appeared in England and America in the early nineteenth century.
The style of Christ Church, however, is not generic Gothic (characterized by the use of pointed arches), but derived from a specifically English version that flourished in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In his scholarly, almost archaeological approach, Vaughan sought particular late medieval examples to serve as inspiration for his designs. Thus, the bell tower of Christ Church is modeled after the tower at Magdalen College, Oxford. Such attention to historical sources was in keeping with liturgical reforms initiated in England by the Oxford Movement in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, which sought to restore awareness of the Catholic heritage of the Anglican church and to revive worship practices of the late Middle Ages. These practices in turn required a medieval architectural setting—thus the need for a delicately carved screen in front of the chancel and for monumental stone figures about the high altar.
Vaughan was intimately involved in the design of all aspects of the decoration of the church and in choosing the artists. The firm of C. E. Kempe in London, for example, provided the brilliant stained glass windows, while the intricate wood carving was done by a favorite sculptor of Vaughan’s, Johannes Kirchmayer, a native of Bavaria. Christ Church, which has been called “the jewel of Vaughan’s parish architecture,” is therefore remarkable for the unity in style and program of its interior decoration—a program of spiritual resonances as well as of visual beauty.