Gothic cathedrals are known for their towering heights, pointed
arches and leafy stone ornamentation. Neoclassical churches borrow the columns
and porches of ancient Greek and Roman designs. In the Arlington Diocese, each
church also has a distinct style, or some combination of several styles.
St. Stephen the Martyr Church in Middelburg was constructed in
1963 and is an example of American colonial revival architecture. According to How to Read Churches by Denis R. McNamara, the style
developed, “after World War I, (when) a sense of national maturity settled on
American culture — which was discovering its 18th century roots.” Colonial
identity was so strong that even Catholic churches were modeled after
traditional Protestant meeting houses.
The Middleburg church is made of red brick with a white pediment (the
triangular adornment) and colonnade at the front entrance. The cupola and bell
tower atop the entrance is 65 feet high, according to the parish resource
booklet, “St. Stephen the Martyr Church and its People.” The early American
interior has white walls and pews with wooden trim.
St. Lawrence Church in Alexandria was built in 1970, shortly after
St. Stephen, but instead adopted the prevailing modern style. The base of the
church is relatively low-lying and made of spilt-face rock. An unconventional dome
comprised of stained glass panels sits directly above the sanctuary. According
to the church’s facilities coordinator, Mark Krause, the interior has been
As seen in St. Lawrence, modernism has its roots in the 20th
century and looks radically different than traditional architecture. “Many
Modernist architects develop(ed) an aesthetic founded on the forms and materials
of a perceived industrial age,” said McNamara. “Exposed steel and concrete,
sculptural building forms, and the absence of specific historical references
characterize many of the buildings.” The style is also known for its simplicity
and abstract forms.