History and Mission
The Cathedral Today
The Cathedral is a house of a prayer for all. We are the Episcopal Cathedral in the Diocese of Massachusetts, located in the heart of Boston. We welcome everyone to join our vibrant community. We are home to a diverse array of parishioners and community members including our regular Sunday congregation; the Episcopal Chinese Congregation; our emerging church community, The Crossing; our community of those who are homeless and in transition; and a Muslim community who gathers for Jum’ah Friday Prayers.
In 2013, the Nautilus was installed in the Pediment. A piece of public art that sparked some controversy, the Nautilus stands as an inviting symbol of spiritual growth. In 2014, St. Paul’s merged with the historic Church of Saint John the Evangelist, Boston. The congregation will worship in the Bowdoin Street church during extensive renovations to the interior of the Cathedral.
In 2013, the Nautilus was installed in the Pediment as a symbol of universal invitation and welcome. A piece of public art that sparked some controversy, the Nautilus stands as an inviting symbol of spiritual growth. To view a short video about the installation and dedication of this unique work, click here.
The Cathedral will reopen its doors in Spring 2015. We are creating a space to embody our mission of being a house of prayer for all people. The new interior will be warmer, more inviting and more inclusive.
The Cathedral functions as the center of mission for the Diocese. As such, we offer liturgy and music in the best of the Anglican tradition–past and present. The Cathedral is a site of gatherings of leaders from throughout the Diocese and community. Amid the very active life of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, one of the largest in the United States, the Cathedral’s doors remain open to all, with scheduled worship and quiet sanctuary available nearly every day. More than a building, we continue to uphold our mission as a house of prayer for all people.
St. Paul’s Church, Boston’s fourth Episcopal Church, was established in 1818 by a group of Boston patriots wanting to found a wholly American Episcopal parish. The two existing Episcopal churches, Christ Church (Old North), established in 1722, and Trinity Church, founded in 1733 on downtown Summer Street, had been formed prior to the American Revolution. The oldest Episcopal parish, King’s Chapel (1686), had already been swept away by the rising tide of Unitarianism.
In 1819, the founders commissioned Alexander Parris and Solomon Willard to construct a Greek temple to contrast with the existing colonial and “gothick” structures of the town. Financed by the sale of 100 shares, all of which were sold by April 1819, St. Paul’s Church was consecrated by Bishop Alexander Viets Griswold on June 30, 1820.
The first example of Greek Revival architecture in Boston, St. Paul’s was a strong contrast to the colonial “meeting house” appearance of the Park Street Church (1809) across Tremont Street. The light Quincy granite, used for the body of the building, was brought from the quarries on the first railroad operated in the United States. The Ionic columns on the portico are of brown sandstone quarried from the region of Acquia Creek in Stafford County, Virginia. Stones from St. Paul’s in London, and St. Botolph’s in Boston, England, were included to show unity with the Anglican tradition. As a demonstration of the patriotic fervor that inspired its establishment, a stone from Valley Forge in Pennsylvania was also included. The still unfinished pediment (the triangle at the top of the 6 columns) was intended to contain a carved frieze representing Saint Paul preaching before King Agrippa.
At the turn of the 20th century, sisters Mary Sophia and Harriet Sarah Walker left an estate of more than a million dollars for the purpose of building an Episcopal cathedral (or bishop’s church) in the City of Boston. Rather than build a new church, Bishop Lawrence decided the bequest could better be spent on ministry, and he asked St. Paul’s Church to become the Cathedral. On October 7, 1912, St. Paul’s was dedicated as the Cathedral Church for the Diocese. To symbolize that the new Cathedral was indeed “a house of prayer for all people,” Bishop Lawrence arranged for the doors to the pews to be removed.
Notable Historical Events
St. Paul’s has hosted several significant events in Episcopal Church history. Alexander Crummell, the third African-American ordained in the Episcopal Church, was ordained here in 1844. The Right Reverend Barbara Harris, the first woman bishop in the Anglican Communion, was elected bishop here, and for years St. Paul’s served as the base for her prophetic ministry. The first public healing services for people with AIDS were also held here.
The interior of the church has undergone repeated and extensive renovation. The current curved apse is a later addition to what was originally a nearly square New England meeting house interior. St. Paul’s also enjoys the distinction of having two beautiful pipe organs, the magnificent Aeolian-Skinner, in the rear, and the smaller Andover instrument in the chancel.
In 1986, the walls and ceiling painted in a polychromatic style, new granite flooring laid in the aisles, the baptismal font moved to its current location, the majestic but daunting wineglass pulpit replaced by the simpler pulpit-lectern, a free-standing altar constructed, and a dramatic cross bontonnee suspended over the altar.
In April 2014, the Cathedral closed its doors in order to undergo extensive interior renovations. The Cathedral will reopen in Spring 2015.