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A Short History of St. Mark's

See Tom Krepcio's April 9, 2005 blog about St. Mark's windows


St. Mark's church view from the street.

The first church of any denomination in the coal mining area of Oak Hill in south St. Louis was the Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents, established in 1871.  Although the parish flourished for several decades, the coal diggings had all disappeared by the end of the first quarter of the twentieth century, and Holy Innocents parish went into a long period of decline, finally closing its doors in 1935.  Around the same time the Diocese of Missouri established a new mission in south St. Louis, St. Andrew's, to serve the newly developed area of St. Louis Hills.  The members of St. Andrew's Mission, which also incorporated members from Mount Calvary Church, which had closed at an earlier date, at first met to worship in the nearby Nottingham school. 

Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents

In 1938, however, Bishop William Scarlett of Missouri resolved to use a  $75,000 gift in memory of Mrs. Anna Watkins to build a new church for the St. Andrew's mission and absorbing the remaining members from the former Holy Innocents parish.  The church, dedicated to St. Mark and located in a quiet street in the leafy St. Louis Hills neighborhood, shows how imaginative architects can create an outstanding design within a very limited budget.  At Bishop Scarlett's insistence, the planning of the new church was left to the artists responsible, and there were no committees to stifle their creativity.  The firm of architects responsible was a partnership of Frederick Dunn  (1905-1984) and Charles Nagel  (1899-1992).   The dedication of the new church took place on January 15, 1939, and though only seventy years old, the building is already a historic landmark. 

Photograph of the front of the church.

St. Mark's, an extremely beautiful building in the Moderne style of the Empire State Building, was one of a handful of uncompromisingly modern churches built anywhere in the world before World War II.  Some of the internal decoration, such as the front of the choir loft, uses neo-Egyptian detailing like that of the Chrysler Building in New York.  The building seats only two hundred, but is lofty and resonant.  As a space it combines intimacy with elegance and grandeur in a way that is reminiscent of an Oxford or Cambridge college chapel.  Externally, the tall white brick church dominates a paved plaza, flanked by the low white brick Parish House and Rectory, both dating from the 1950's.  The ensemble also forms an interesting contrast with the red brick that predominates in the rest of the neighborhood, something that, together with its advanced design, made it highly controversial when it was built.   

Stained glass window.The church is especially noteworthy for its fine stained glass in pastel shades of blue, green and purple, designed by Robert Harmon and made at the Emil Frei studios.  A hammer depicted in one of the windows is a lighthearted tribute to the architects: a worker in overalls holds a hammer, with "Dunn" written on it, another holds a nail, a play on the name of Charles Nagel in German.  The windows on the north side depict the life of Christ as told in the gospel of Mark. The windows on the south side explore where Christ is present in modern times. Workers in overalls, strikers' umbrellas, soldiers and moneybags, rather than saints in flowing garments, look down from the windows. Some of the windows on the south side, whose social justice themes were very controversial when they were new, deal with race relations, industrial relations and opposition to totalitarianism.  The same themes are found in Robert Harmon's Holy Innocents rose window above the organ at the west end, commemorating the association with the former Church of the Holy Innocents.  The race relations theme is also taken up in Beatrice Boot's tapestry on the wall to the right of the freestanding white marble altar, and a gift from former members of Holy Innocents parish, a vision of the kingdom of God on earth in which people of all races and classes unite in the praise of God, with the text "Earth shall be fair and all her folk be one." The statue of St. Mark to the left of the west door and the "Christus Rex" crucifix above and behind the altar were both the work of Sheila Burlingame, a pupil of Carl Milles.   

A preliminary sketch by the architects of the altar area of St. Mark's Church

Also of interest is the little Aeolian-Skinner organ (op. 979) in the choir loft at the west end of the church, one of the first instruments built in a church on open display rather than buried in a chamber, and an early example of a small neo-baroque church organ. It is one of G. Donald Harrison's finest instruments.  Because it is so effective in the lively acoustics of St. Mark's, Senator Emerson Richards described the instrument as "the biggest little organ in the world".    

Baptismal font.The ironwork pulpit and lectern date from the 1950s and were early works of sculptor Clarke Battle Fitzgerald, best known for his sculpture "The Pendulum and the City" in Coventry Cathedral.   The Victorian font came from the Church of the Holy Innocents. It was given in memory of the Rev. Louis Sanford Schuyler (1852-1878), their first rector, and one of the Martyrs of Memphis

.A recent addition of 1991 is the All Saint's Memorial Garden on the north side of the church with its attractive marble fountain-wall. On the east side of this garden hangs an old bell, dated 1636, originally in the tower of the village church in Blendworth, England, shipped over courtesy of the Royal Navy, and a memento of a clergy exchange between Blendworth and St. Mark's in 1959-1960. The Rev. Murray Kenney, rector of St. Mark's, went to Blendworth and the Rev. William Rees of Blendworth, Hants, came to St. Mark's.  

The rectory was built in 1950-1951 after a design by Frederick Dunn and the William Scarlett Parish House by Norton-Higgenbotham was dedicated in 1955. In the parish house are wood blocks of the Gospels by John Tatschl on a mural background.

Clergy of St. Mark's Church 

1939-41 The Rev. Charles Wilson
1941-1946 The Rev. Raymond Maxwell
1947-1966 The Rev. William Murray Kenney
1967-1977 The Rev. James Paget
1978-1984 The Rev. David Musgrave
1985-1992  The Rev. Paul Lautenschlager
1993-2010 The Rev. Lydia Agnew Speller