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On the Job

Church architect finds inspiration in his work

“Sacred architecture is architecture of the spirit,” says Ethan Anthony of the Boston firm Cram & Ferguson, which was founded in 1889 by Ralph Adams Cram.

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

“Sacred architecture is architecture of the spirit,” says Ethan Anthony of the Boston firm Cram & Ferguson, which was founded in 1889 by Ralph Adams Cram.

Ethan Anthony, an architect at the Boston firm Cram & Ferguson, claims to have laid cornerstones for the first true Gothic churches built in the United States since World War II, complete with graceful stone spires, soaring arches, and ornate stained glass.

By dedicating himself to the revival of sacred architecture like this, Anthony is carrying on the tradition of his firm’s 19th-century founder Ralph Adams Cram, who created masterpieces including the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City. Anthony, 62, has designed St. Edward’s Chapel in Oklahoma City; Our Lady of Walsingham Catholic Church in Houston; and Phillips Chapel at the Canterbury School in Greensboro, N.C.

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“Sacred architecture is architecture of the spirit, and includes all denominations and inclinations, from Buddhist all the way to High Roman Catholic,” said Anthony. “It’s not about the ego or church image but more about spiritual fulfillment.”

Modern day sacred architecture — isn’t that an oxymoron?

Here in New England, it is a contradiction in terms, but most of our work is in the Bible Belt. Construction in New England, though, is few and far between. The archdiocese still has far more churches than they wish they had.

You’ve completed a wide range of churches. What project is your favorite?

The Syon Abbey, a monastery in Virginia. It sits on the ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia.

Can sacred architecture also be sustainable?

We try very hard to be energy-efficient. We use durable building materials that don’t decay quickly, extra insulation, and other sustainable measures.

Your firm was founded in 1889 by Ralph Adams Cram. How does his work influence you?

Cram was one of the founders of the Boston Society of the Arts and Crafts, and his sense of high-quality material, grounding in tradition, and being a part of a long history of classic architecture is very much what I am interested in. When I joined the firm, I started going through all the archives — there are maybe 100,000 drawings in the Cram collection in the Boston Public Library. It set a high standard for me to aspire to.

How did you become interested architecture?

From the time I was a little kid, my mother taught me about carpentry and talked about architecture. The irony of my interest in traditional architecture is that I grew up in a very modernist house with a flat roof.

Do you ever feel guided by divine inspiration when designing a church?

“Inspiration” is a critical part of every project. I often despair of finding a solution, then the answer arrives on its own. My best work is done on an airliner tray. Closer to God. I work even better in First Class.

Cindy Atoji Keene can be reached at cindy@cindyatoji.com.
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