The Episcopal Church established an institutional presence in Wisconsin in the 1830s and 1840s when missionary bishop Jackson Kemper set up Episcopal churches in the Northwest Territory’s isolated settlements. To train ministers for Wisconsin’s new congregations, Kemper founded the Nashotah House Seminary in 1842. It is still in operation and known for its adherence to Anglo-Catholic doctrine and ritual. Bishop Kemper advocated the Oxford Movement, which hoped to revive the Anglican and Episcopal churches in Great Britain and the United States by returning to Catholic doctrine and ritual. This movement allied itself with the Camden Society, which advocated Gothic architecture for Episcopal churches, especially the simple pointed-arch Early English idiom seen here.
The seminary’s architectural highlight is its Chapel of St. Mary the Virgin, set on a broad lawn amid mature trees, facing Upper Nashotah Lake. It is an elongated, graceful expression of Early English Gothic Revival. Construction began in 1859, but the Civil War delayed completion until 1866. Lancet windows pierce light gray, random-coursed limestone walls, which are sheltered by a front-gabled roof. A stone portal rises to form what looks like a bell-cote but is actually a soaring parapet, also pierced by lancets. The chapel’s interior was substantially reworked in 1893 and 1907; highlights include statues of saints in the rood screen and reredos. Stretching south of the chapel, the long Gothic-arched cloister dates from 1893. It borders a quiet courtyard with a view of the freestanding board-and-batten bell tower that recalls St. John Chrysostom Church (WK19) in nearby Delafield.
Some scholars have attributed the design of St. Mary’s chapel to the renowned church architect Richard Upjohn, but in fact the trustees rejected his plan as too expensive. Historical documents reveal that Milwaukee’s James Douglas was the designer, though he may have drawn on Upjohn’s inspiration. His creation resembles Upjohn’s St. Thomas Episcopal Church (1849–1851) in Amenia, New York, and St. James the Less, a Philadelphia church built in 1846 from designs sent from England by the Ecclesiological Society of Cambridge.