Recently (once again), I was walking down the street, this time in Cambridge, lost in thought, and chanced upon a large white wood building that I’d seen many times. A church. Its main doors were usually locked midweek. But this day I decided to do something I’d never done before. I went around a corner and knocked at a different door, and this is what I learned.
Now located at 8 Inman Street, Cambridge, MA, in the heart of Central Square, this church was once sited in a different part of Cambridge. In 1822, the First Universalist Society built a meeting space in Lafayette Square, Cambridge at the corner of what was then known as Main and Front Streets. In 1858, under the architectural supervision of Thomas Silloway, the Georgian style meeting house was significantly remodeled at a cost of $8,000.
In 1888, part of the church lot was taken by the City of Cambridge for the widening of Front Street (now Massachusetts Avenue). After careful consideration it was decided to move the building to its present location on Inman Street. The building was cut into two parts and, as described in the church brochure, “Over a period of five days, men and horses were used to pull the building through the 40-ft. wide streets of Cambridge. … Telephone and telegraph service were also temporarily interrupted…” When placed in the new location, a middle portion was inserted to increase the length twenty feet. In addition to other major remodeling efforts, over time, there were at least three series of stained glass window installations. Artisans included Redding, Baird and Co., Belcher Glass Co., and an unnamed student of John LaFarge.
By 1954, the Universalist congregation had diminished to a very small number providing the opportunity for the orthodox parish of St. Mary to obtain the structure. Later, assessed as part of the process for listing on the National Historic Register, the building was identified to have some of the rarest stained glass in the Northeast.
That particular day, I just took a quick peek, and what a delight.
Across time and despite the change in parishes, great effort has been made to protect, preserve and expand upon the stained glass windows and other interior decoration.
Please note that if you’re in the area, tours may be arranged.
I am thankful for the opportunity to visit so unexpectedly.
And I was reminded once more …you never know what a day will bring.
St. Mary Orthodox Church Website