Main content | Sidebar | Links

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Boston's historic Old West Church vandalized.

Boston's historic Old West Church, which was built 200 years ago by one of the city's most influential early liberal congregations and which now houses a small United Methodist congregation and a Metropolitan Community Church congregation, was seriously vandalized early Thursday morning. The Boston Globe reports that "the church's beloved old pulpit Bible was torn in half. Its hymnals were violently scattered about the sanctuary. Four old paintings of previous pastors were ripped from the walls and torn. A 5-foot tall painting of Jesus on the Cross was slashed."

Unitarian history buffs will recognize the church for at least three of its ministers: Jonathan Mayhew, a proto-Unitarian, was active in the early years of the American Revolution and coined the phrase "no taxation without representation." Charles Lowell, father of the writer James Russell Lowell, was the first minister in the present building, constructed in 1806. Lowell opposed segregation and slavery along with his assistant minister, the abolitionist Cyrus Bartol, who succeeded him. Bartol hosted the first meeting of the group of religious radicals who organized the Free Religious Association in 1867. The Unitarian congregation disbanded in 1887. (Here's some historical background on the church.)

The church building served as a public library branch for more than sixty years. It returned to use as a worship space when the United Methodists bought it in 1961. I fear that the vandalized paintings depicted Mayhew, Lowell, Bartol, and Simeon Howard (minister during the Revolution) — figures important not only to the present congregation, but to Unitarian Universalists and indeed to American history.

The Globe reports that the motives of the vandals are unclear at this time.

("Vandals tear a Bible in half, ransack Old West Church," Raja Mishra and LeMont Calloway, Boston Globe 8.12.06, reg req'd)

Update 8.14.06: Today's Globe confirms that the vandalized portraits depict the church's four late-18th and early-19th century ministers, major figures in the development of American Unitarianism.

("Undaunted by vandalism, West End church bands together," Adrienne P. Samuels, Boston Globe 8.14.06, reg req'd)

Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 12 August 2006 at 8:49 AM

Previous: Ned Lamont and Corliss Lamont.
Next: Jesus' parables: A retreat with Carl Scovel.




August 12, 2006 10:42 AM | Permalink for this comment

I originally had written that Cyrus Bartol hosted the first meeting of the Transcendentalists, which of course is not true. Bartol hosted the group of radicals a generation later who formed the Free Religious Association, which opposed the establishment of a denominational structure for Unitarian churches just after the end of the Civil War.

Comments for this entry are currently closed.