History of Christ Church Cathedral
Christ Church Cathedral had its beginning on May 13, 1817, when a chapel on the second floor of a small building on the grounds of the U. S. Armory in Springfield was dedicated. It was due to the determination of the commander of the armory, Col. Roswell Lee, a staunch Episcopalian, that the chapel was founded.
On March 2, 1824, a fire destroyed the main arsenal forcing the armory to use the building housing the chapel for other uses. Over the next several years, Episcopalians worshiped at several locations, including the Methodist church, the parish house of the first church and the old court house.
On October 28, 1838, the son of Col. Lee, the Rev. Henry W. Lee, took charge of the fledgling congregation. Following his first service, the new rector called a meeting, and the parish was reorganized on a permanent basis. The new wardens and vestrymen ‘voted to retain the name by which the society had hitherto been known, Christ Church.’
In 1839, property at the corner of State and Dwight Streets was purchased and the construction of a new church begun. Like the parochial churches of London built at that time, Christ Church was a long box like building with a square turreted cupola at one end and a portico at the entrance. In 1851, the church was enlarged some 30 feet, which added 30 more pews to the existing 68. A chancel, vestry room and library were also added.
The church continued to grow, benefiting from the prosperity brought to Springfield by the Civil War. By the 1870’s it became apparent that a new church was needed. The present site on Chestnut Street was purchased in 1874 and construction begun. On a rainy Sunday, May 21, 1876, the first service was held in the new building, which is the present church.
Built in the Norman style architecture of Longmeadow brownstone, the church was far more beautiful and pleasing to the eye than the previous one. Large wheel windows light both the north and south transepts and the west end. The tower of the new building, however, cracked and, for safety reasons, had to be removed. The church was to remain without a tower for the next 50 years. It was not until 1927 that the vestry voted to have it rebuilt.
In 1929, 28 years after the creation of Western Massachusetts as an autonomous diocese, Christ Church became the Cathedral of the Diocese. Dr. John M. McGann, who was the current rector, became the first Dean of the Cathedral. Later that year, The Very Rev. Percy T. Edrop was installed as Dean of the Cathedral, a position he was to hold until 1943. He may be credited for the installation of the many memorials which today enhance the interior of the church. These include the Italian marble main altar, wooden reredos, narthex and the John Cotton Brooks memorial pulpit.
He was followed by the Very Rev. Donald Campbell who guided the Cathedral through the stormy days of World War II. Dean Campbell left in 1949 to become the Suffragan bishop of California. Later that year, the Very Rev. Merritt F. Williams became the fourth Dean of the Cathedral. As a former Canon of the National Cathedral in Washington, Dean Williams was able to persuade the donors of a lectern, which had proved to be too small for the National Cathedral, to donate it to Christ Church Cathedral instead. Dean Williams retired in 1968.
He was succeeded by Malcolm W. Eckel who presided over a number of Cathedral renovations. He was also responsible for establishing new ties with Coventry Cathedral in England as well as solidifying our ties with the National Cathedral. The tenure of Dean Eckel was also characterized by his movement toward ecumenism, which included the appointment of Dr. Karl Donfried, a Lutheran pastor and theologian, as the first Ecumenical Canon, a capacity in which he still serves. Dean Eckel retired in 1981.
From 1981 to 1995 The Very Rev. Earl Whepley served as Dean of the Cathedral. During this time, the interior of the Cathedral was completely renovated. This included a redesign of the apse, moving of the organ console and choir stalls, as well as the repositioning of the High Altar and the Magee Altar. This renovation also restored and enhanced the marvelous accoustics for which the cathedral has become well known.
On December 29, 1997, the Executive Committee elected the Reverend James G. Munroe as the sixth Dean of Christ Church Cathedral.
On May 19, 2017 , Bishop Douglas Fisher installed the Reverend Tom Callard as the seventh Dean of Christ Church Cathedral.
For a very complete history of Christ Church from 1817 to 1927, complete with period photographs, please click here.