Saint Hilary's

Robert H. Matts

  • Built

Perhaps a more obscure example of the true Sarasota School architectural style, St Hilary's is as a notable church using the materials and principles of shade and ventilation typical of the era. The exterior is a simple expression of its inner function borrowing details from buildings both recent and classical, but inside, the space is distinctly mid-century - timeless and elegant. Simple materials: blocks of colored glass inserted in concrete, local brick, wood ceilings, patterned panels behind the altar, etc, are all reminiscent of the period.

Influenced by churches seen in Europe, The Reverend Robert Browning, Jr., rector emeritus, requested the new church be distinctly designed in the round.

In March 2011, he remembered working with architect Robert Matts on the design (edited):

"I met him in October 1965 when we discussed the original concept for St Hilary's to be a Spanish Mission styled building. Although the original design was beautiful, it was out of our price range. Instead we opted for the more minimal building that stands today. The dome from the early design was expanded to sixty-foot in diameter, creating the round central form expressed on the exterior. On either side of the circular sanctuary stand the single story parish hall and the school wing, positioned to signify open arms reaching out to the community.

Some critics said it all looked like a silo and barn. Robert Matts said, "Good!" We decided as Jesus was born in a barn - it was a great idea. In fact, he suggested we invite the News-Press to the dedication and he paid for the limo to bring them. After Matts' retort, someone sent us several thousand dollars for the building fund.

Robert became such a part of the design and construction that ultimately he only accepted about 25% of his original fee. He even designed and paid for the corrections and the entire wooden wall behind the altar as his gift. He didn't charge us for the initial design either.

He welcomed any and all ideas that contributed to a better final building. He was a complete joy to work with."

New ideas were not always welcome and one member of the community wrote a letter to Reverend Browning agreeing with the critics - who had complained the church resembled a barn and silo.


AIA Florida Southwest Southwest Florida Museum of History Herman Miller