Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 8/7/17
New Jersey churches may not get the kind of press that churches found in places such as Italy or Spain my receive, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not notable.
New Jersey has tons of beautiful churches, many of them right in our Central Jersey backyards, that are worth a visit for those who can appreciate colorful stained glass windows, historic structures and breathtaking columns.
Religious or not, if you’re an architecture buff, check out these amazing churches that can only be found in the Garden State.
Princeton University Chapel
When the Princeton University Chapel was completed in 1928 with a $2 million price tag and a Tudor Gothic style, the imposing chapel — which can seat 2,000 people — was second in size only to the chapel at King’s College, Cambridge University. Today, it’s also home to frequent weddings and memorial services for alumni, faculty, and many other friends of the University.
The Princeton University Chapel, however, wasn’t the first chapel to grace the grounds of Princeton University. It was built in response to a fire that destroyed Marquand Chapel in 1920. This left worship services to be held in Alexander Hall, where Professor Woodrow Wilson delivered his address, “Princeton in the Nation’s Service,” for several years. In the meantime, University President John Grier Hibben issued an appeal for funds to construct a chapel.
If you go: Murray-Dodge Hall on the Princeton University campus in Princeton; 609-258-3047, religiouslife.princeton.edu/chapel
St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral
The Metuchen cathedral features interior walls constructed of limestone with marble wainscoting, woodwork made of solid oak, terrazzo floors and the altars formed with marble imported from Italy. Over the main altar, visitors can see a near-life size bronze crucifix topped by an exquisite Gothic baldacchino. At the rear of the church, a spectacular rose window can be found.
The first frame church of St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral seated 225 people, which served from 1878 through 1903 until an oil lamp overturned and flames destroyed the church. The years and church buildings continued to grow until 1960, when 2,000 families were a part of the parish which necessitated a new church that was completed in 1961.
If you go: 32 Elm Ave., Metuchen; 732-548-0100, stfranciscathedral.org
Grace Episcopal Church
At the Plainfield church, the four-paneled Tiffany and stained glass windows feature prophets, saints and favorite stories from the Bible. The Church, constructed in 1892 by British-American architect Robert Gibson, is a well-preserved example of Gothic Revival architecture.
In design and workmanship, Grace Church reflects late 19th-century ecclesiastical architecture. The building is characterized by the use of asymmetry, cruciform plan, pointed arched windows and arches, Gothic-style door carvings and decorative sandstone trim around door and window openings.
The church has a central nave flanked by narrow side aisles and clerestory windows above the aisles illuminate the interior.
If you go: 600 Cleveland Ave., Plainfield; 908-756-1520, graceplainfield.org
United Reformed Church
The Somerville church is one of nearly 1,000 congregations of the Reformed Church in America. Formerly the Second Reformed Church, the building was designed and constructed in 1893-94 in the Richardsonian Romanesque style of architecture, which is characterized by low granite columns, unmatched towers facing the street and rough-hewn stone.
In 1779, the Reformed Dutch Church of Raritan, which was the founding of the United Reformed Church, was burned down alongside the county Court House in Millstone. In 1783, a building was erected in Somerville for the use of the church and the county courts. This arrangement only lasted about a year before land was purchased on which to build a church further west on Main Street, now the United Reformed Church of Somerville.
If you go: 100 W Main St., Somerville; 908-725-4545, urcsomerville.org
Flemington Presbyterian Church
The Flemington Presbyterian Church is an example of an Akron Plan-style sanctuary, with its semicircular pews gathered around the Chancel area. Visitors should take notice of the stained glass windows (some of them by Tiffany), the ornate pulpit, the Celtic cross in front of the organ pipes and the pipe organ from the Austin Organ Company.
During the 1850s, as the Flemington English Presbyterian Church grew, the original meeting house was torn down and a larger church was constructed on the site where the current sanctuary stands.
Later, as the church continued to grow, another new sanctuary was needed, the one visitors will see today.
If you go: 10 E. Main St., Flemington; 908-782-3227, flemingtonpres.org