St. Anne's Church: A Romanesque Beauty on Church Circle
When Sir Francis Nicholson designed the city plan of Annapolis in 1694, he formed two monumental street circles on the highest lands overlooking the harbor and Chesapeake Bay. State Circle provides a most commanding setting for the State House and seat of government. Church Circle is smaller, and on slightly lower land, but in many ways has a greater visual impact on the city.
Church Circle is the hinge
between Main Street and West Street. Probably the only salient feature on
the Annapolis peninsula before Nicholson’s plan was the horse path from
western lands to the natural harbor. This path was formed by the natural
topography. Situated on the highest ground between Spa Creek and College
Creek (now West Street), it lead to the most gradual slope into the
natural harbor (now Main Street). If you stand at the south side of the
church building, near Captain John Worthington’s 17xx grave, you can
look down Main Street to the Harbor, and look out West Street, the land
route to Philadelphia and Washington DC. It is not hard to imagine the
actual placement of the church building respects this ancient path. It is
one explanation for the fact that the building is not in the center of the
circle and the front door is not precisely centered on West Street.
was a staunch supporter of the Church of England. He believed strongly
that the church should play an integral part in the development of
Annapolis. His placement of Church Circle had the profound effect that
upon entering the city either by land or by water, the church building
would dominate the approach.
building we see today is the third church structure. The first was started
within 5 years of Nicholson’s plan, and was the only brick church in
Maryland. This building was demolished in1775 to make way for a larger
church. It is hard to believe that the church Vestry could not have
foreseen the pending “unplesantries” of the revolution. The
unfortunate timing of the new construction was halted by the scarcity of
materials, and the flaccid community support for building a new edifice
for the Church of England. By 1785 work begins on a new church without
ties to England, and completed by 1792. It is this church building we can
see in the 1800 water color of Annapolis. This building burned in 1858 due
to a faulty furnace. It was rebuilt immediately and is the building we see
today. The second building shares many architectural similarities with the
present building. Both are Romanesque architecture which was very popular
in the 1800s before the Civil War. Romanesque architecture features
perfectly circular round arches, frequently paired one inside of another.
The style tends to be severe with little architectural ornamentation. The
1858 bird’s eye print of Annapolis by E. Sachse Company illustrates the
church with two steeples, making a more complete Romanesque composition.
The Civil War interrupted their construction. In 1866 the single spire we
see today was completed in a Gothic style. The octagonal taper sits on a
square brick base and includes the town clock which is actually the
property of the City of Annapolis and responsible for its care and
maintenance. Fortunately we can set aside all issues of the separation of
Church and State, and enjoy the remarkable beauty of the edifice and the
quarter hour chimes.
interior of the church is magnificent. It has been recently restored using
original paint colors with lovely understated stenciling. The high ceiling
of the sanctuary is lit by Tiffany stained glass windows. Of special note
is the bronze lectern capped by an American eagle with wings spread and
talons extended. The lectern was given to the church by the widow of James
Iredell Wendell, commodore of the confederate war ship the S.C.
Shenandoah. After the war, Wendell cooled off in England, returning to
build his beautiful English Shavian inspired home on the corner of College
Avenue and Prince George Street in 1881. The lectern is a great example of
bombastic design, demanding much visual attention. No less demanding is
the inscription which suggests that the Commodore should “rest with the