When the founders of the Cathedral Church of Saint Paul, which overlooks the Boston Common at 138 Tremont St., erected the impressive Greek Revival structure in 1820, they envisioned it as a beacon of forward-thinking, democratic ideals. And for the last 100 years, the church has done just that, serving as a house of worship for people of all faiths and backgrounds.
But during construction, the builders ran out of money, and the pediment of the church — the flat triangular area between the building's columns and the roof line — was left bare and unfinished. It's been that way for 190 years.
That's about to change.
"People walk by here all the time and have no idea about what an astonishing place this is and what happens here. We wanted to make the front more inviting, more welcoming, and to stand out," said Jep Streit, reverend and dean of the church.
"The nautilus is evocative of so much more than the church. It's always moving into a new, bigger space, and it can never go back. It seems the perfect metaphor for a spiritual journey."Jep Streit, reverend and dean
Philadelphia-based sculptor Donald Lipski was selected from a pool of 150 artists to complete the long-awaited pediment.
"His genius was to take a section of a nautilus shell — that beautiful, lacy spiral — and inscribe it into the pediment on a blue background," Streit said. "Everyone who's seen it is stunned by its simplicity and beauty."
Pediments are often furnished with intricate carvings of biblical imagery. But the selection committee felt that if the church had chosen to install carvings of human figures on the pediment, it would quickly fade into the background.
"Walk around Boston and see how many carvings you never notice. This is a more vivid proclamation of what we care about."
Lipski's design is very contemporary. And it's not overtly religious.
"The nautilus is evocative of so much more than the church," Streit explained. "It creates its shell by outgrowing each previous compartment. It's always moving into a new, bigger space, and it can never go back. It seems the perfect metaphor for a spiritual journey."
Lipski's nautilus sculpture, as well as extensive interior renovations, celebrate the building's 100th anniversary as an Episcopal church, and will be completed this fall.
- Jep Streit, reverend and dean of the Cathedral Church of Saint Paul
This segment aired on March 28, 2012.