St. Paul’s is a Gothic Revival church. The first evidence of the Gothic style are the numerous pointed arches (in the windows, doors and panels, on the pulpit, and so forth).
The floor plan
As a Gothic church, St. Paul’s is built on a cruciform plan, which means that its ground pattern is that of a (Latin) cross. The base of the cross is the nave, where the congregation sits. The nave (from Latin navis ‘ship’) symbolizes the Christian Church with its mast a cross and its anchor representing hope.
The two arms of the cross are formed by the transept, the area set at right angles to the nave. In our church, it contains the Good Shepherd Chapel and the Saints Peter and Paul Chapel.
The head of the cross is the chancel, which is reached from the crossing (where the nave and the transept intersect) by a flight of steps. The chancel contains the pulpit, choir stalls and clergy seats as well as the organ. The sanctuary is the elevated area behind the altar rails. It contains the altar, the reredos and the aumbry.
The altar reminds us of the sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ for our. During Holy Eucharist the vessels for holding the bread, wine, and water are placed on the altar. We also place our financial contributions on the altar.
The altar bears the cross and the Greek letters A (alpha) and Ω (omega), symbols of Christ, “the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13).
The Eucharistic candles are the two candles at each end of the altar. They are lit for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, representing Our Lord as the Light of the world in his twofold nature (divine and human).
The reredos, the wooden screen behind the altar, a fine example of Decorated Gothic, contains numerous symbolic references to Christ and the Eucharist, notably wheat and grapes. On the reredos stands the altar cross, designed by Hobart John, regarded at the time by experts as the foremost Gothic architect in the country. Made of solid brass, the cross stands almost 4 feet high and weighs 60 pounds. Like the reredos, the cross is rich in Christologic and Trinitarian symbolism. Since this cross represents Christ’s victory and kingship, we replace it with a wooden crucifix – a sculpture of Christ nailed to the cross – during the six weeks of Lent to remind us of Christ’s passion.
On either side of the cross are three candles. Together with the cross – the symbol of Christ, the Light of the World – they remind us of the seven-branch candelabrum of Old Testament worship.
Also on the reredos are two coats of arms. On the left (heraldic right, or dexter) is the coat of arms of the Archbishopric of Canterbury, used since the mid-fourteenth century (Azure an archiepiscopal staff in pale Argent ensigned with a cross paty Or surmounted by a pallium of the second fimbriated and fringed Or and charged with four crosses paty fitchy Sable). On the right (heraldic left, or sinister) is that of the Episcopal Church, adopted in 1940 (Argent a cross Gules on a canton Azure nine cross-crosslets Argent saltirewise). The red cross on a white field is the cross of St. George and indicates our descent from the Church of England. The saltire, or St. Andrew’s cross, indicates that the first American bishop, Samuel Seabury, was consecrated by bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church at Aberdeen in 1784. The nine cross-crosslets of the St. Andrew’s cross symbolize the nine original dioceses of the Episcopal Church.
The altar (not the lectern, pulpit or choir stalls) is located at the center of the sanctuary. This reminds us that Jesus Christ is central to our worship.
A receptacle to hold the Reserved Sacrament, the aumbry (the word derives, like armoire, from Latin armarium ‘cupboard’), is located in the wall to the left of the altar. The red lamp above the altar is a sign that the reserved consecrated sacrament is present in the sanctuary. It is extinguished after the Maundy Thursday service and relit at the Great Vigil of Easter.
The altar rail
The rail in front of the altar separates the sanctuary from the rest of the church. Communicants kneel here to receive the Eucharist. The quatrefoil (four-leaf) design of the reredos occurs here as well. Four is often considered the number that symbolically embraces everything essential. Four rivers flow from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:10-14); there are four corners of the earth; the heavenly Jerusalem will be laid out with four equal sides (Revelation 21:16). There are four gospels. In his vision the prophet Ezekiel sees four wheels and four living creatures, each with four faces, one facing in each of the four directions (Ezekiel 10).
The chancel arches
These span the width of the chancel. They are decorated with triskeles within circles, symbols of trinity in eternity.
Our lectern is shaped like an eagle, a common form in the Anglican tradition. It is used to symbolize the flight of the gospel over the world. It is most appropriate to support the Bible. The eagle is also the emblem of St. John the Evangelist, who is said to have had a clearer insight into things heavenly than any other New Testament writer. Additional meanings to consider for “eagle” include God’s pronouncement to the Israelites in Exodus 19:4, Psalm 103:5 and Isaiah 40:31.
The Baptismal Font
The baptismal font is located at the entrance of the church because Holy Baptism is the rite of entrance into the Christian Church. Through this rite we are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s body, the Church. When a baptismal service is performed, the congregation turns in their seats to face the entrance.
Among the ornaments of the baptismal font, the dove descending and the fish are especially noteworthy. The fish was an early Christian symbol for Our Lord. The initials of the Greek words for Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior make up the Greek word ikhthus, ‘fish.’ Water cleanses us in Holy Baptism and bread and wine bring us Christ’s presence into closer fellowship with one another and strengthens us to serve God’s will and purpose.
The Paschal candle
This candle symbolizes the risen Christ and is lit in the Great Vigil of Easter. It remains lit throughout the Great Forty Days of Eastertide until Ascension. It is also present at baptisms and funerals to remind us of God’s presence now and forever.