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After 190 Years, St. Paul’s Church To Finish Construction On Pediment

St. Paul's Church on the Boston Common will soon be topped by a backlit nautilus designed by a Philadelphia sculptor. (Courtesy)

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

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  • Anonymous

    “We wanted to make the front more inviting” — Clear out the homeless.

    • Meghna Chakrabarti

      Actually, that is not at all what Rev. Streit meant. In fact, when we were there this afternoon, it was clear from observation that the Rev. and the church have a good relationship. One person even helpfully asked us whom were were looking for, and then took us into the church and helped us find Rev. Streit. There’s nothing that Streit said that indicated to me he’d want to unceremoniously sweep away the homeless who were taking shelter at the church.

  • Alan

    I still don’t see anything that will easily identify this a Christian church, even if it is great art. How about at least putting a cross above where the roof comes to a point. Then people can see it is a church, not the First National Bank with lovely design in the pediment.

    • Anonymous

       Hear, hear. The Cathedral is utterly uninspiring both inside and out, particularly when compared to cathedrals in other cities. This pediment is lipstick on a pig at best.

  • Jep Streit

    We have plans to install a cross up on the portico, above the central entrance doors, which we believe will establish our identity as a Christian Church.  We think the design for the pediment is speaks more broadly to all people, and in a way is not simply beautifuyl but startling, just as Jesus startled people and consistently reached out to those outside the traditional religious circles. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Quentin-Crisp/100002313196445 Quentin Crisp

    A startling statement in art;  how UU can you get?   Is this a pressing need?  Does this culminate the Episcopal mission in Boston?   Please tell me we have someone in the Cathedral with  a eye toward more relevant issues than decorating (or defacing) the Cathedral pediment!  

  • Rosemary Foy

    This treatment is wrong on two counts: in its (lack of ) relevance to the Christian Church, and its defacement of an incredibly important historic building by Alexander Parris. The nautilus is secular in meaning and intent: Reverend Streit essentially means it to be an eye-catching storefront, you know, a good piece of marketing. Or should I say branding?Did anyone in the Diocese bother to find out anything about the significance of this building before glibly deciding it needed a modern facelift? May I suggest Parris’ original idea: St. Paul preaching at Athens?And yes,  I do notice carvings on the buildings of this beautiful city. Always.

  • Adair

    I’m surprised at the negative commentary — before reading this article, I was simply caught and moved by the beauty of the nautilus both opening up and complementing the classicism of the Cathedral. Likewise, I’m proud of my church opening up its pediment without losing its foundations.

  • Ted Martin

    I love it,  it  gives St. Pauls a much more gracefull contempoary feel, yet without changing the original.   I remember years ago,  I read in an encyclopaedia that  “Boston has two Cathedrals, neither of which is noteable”.   This gives it a needed affect at least.   When will it be completed? 

  • M L ” Mike ” Waller

    Its graffiti. First class graffiti, but its still graffitti

    • Ted Martin

      You could say that about anything really.   It is really NOT graffitti.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/OH4T5IB4C4DGEZF27G73NJDDBM Ted

    Sooooo  has it been done,  when will it be?  I do not live in Boston,  but was confirmed at The Cathedral  in the 1960s.

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