Gothic Revival 1830-1860

Gothic architecture originated in medieval France, and is characterized in cathedrals across northern Europe by pointed-arch windows, stained glass, flying buttresses, and gargoyles. In the nineteenth-century, architects invoked a revival of Gothic forms for buildings of ecclesiastic or moral significance, most typically churches and residences. These buildings often sampled and simplified their medieval prototypes, resulting in a widely varied genre.

As Boston welcomed successive waves of immigrants from Ireland, and later, Italy, beginning in the 1840s, the city saw an increased demand for new churches. Catholic leaders naturally turned to Gothic architecture as a familiar style, while other Christian faiths invoked Gothic in an effort to communicate traditional Christian values.

A second Gothic Revival swept Boston in the early twentieth century, when Ralph Adams Cram became especially well known for his versions of medieval reinterpretation (see profile under Historical Architects)). He offered a modernized version of the Gothic in his designs for Boston University (Neo-Gothic), but also used more traditional medieval forms in churches throughout the area. For college campuses, Cram and AIA President and Gold Medal Winner Charles Maginnis channeled inspiration from England’s famed medieval universities at Oxford and Cambridge to inspire campus designs at Wellesley College and Boston College, among many others.

This guide focuses primarily on the first Gothic movement.