Project looks at sacred spaces around Boston

Project looks at sacred spaces around Boston

March 15, 2019

Massachusetts was founded on the basis of religious freedom, with many of the original churches and religious spaces still standing today. But what lies beyond these historic churches, temples and mosques that dot the city are spaces that are not often appreciated enough: sacred spaces.

Boston’s Hidden Sacred Spaces, started by Professor Wendy Cadge (SOC/WGS), architectural historian Alice Friedman and photographer Randall Armor, was created out of a desire to appreciate and show the public sacred spaces that may not be as well known to the public, Cadge told The Brandeis Hoot in an email.

According to Cadge, sacred spaces are “spaces that exist outside of congregations and were designated as spiritual or religious by people inside of the organizations where they are located.” Since the beginning of their project, they have documented 65 sacred spaces in the greater-Boston area and are always looking for more spaces to document.

These spaces include: schools and universities, hospitals and mental health facilities, corrections facilities, retirement communities, cemeteries, port and workmen’s chapels and military chapels. The Hidden Sacred Spaces website states that “these chapels, meditation spaces and prayer rooms serve a spiritual mission within otherwise secular institutions. Some were designed by well-known architects while others were created informally by people desiring a small retreat. They may be familiar and accessible or truly hidden from public view, but they all invite passers-by to pause, sit for a moment, and reflect.”

Cadge, Friedman and Armor found the spaces based on “word of mouth, newspapers, giving talks and hearing from audiences about additional spaces,” said Cadge.

Cadge found inspiration from the project while writing one of her books, “Paging God,” which is about religion in healthcare organizations. “I spent a lot of time in chapels and knew there were many others outside of healthcare and wanted to better understand them,” explained Cadge. “I also think we all would do well to pause more often and these spaces create a space for pause.”

She said that her favorite space that she has found was at Harvard Business School Class of 1959 Chapel in Boston, MA. The chapel was the first chapel at the current Harvard Business School campus when it officially opened in 1992, according to the Sacred Spaces website. “The non-denominational chapel includes a cylindrical main building clad in green patinated, and adjacent glass pyramid as well as a ‘sun clock’ tower.” The interior of the chapel also contains a chamber organ.

The chapel has no scheduled services but “functions primarily as a place for meditation and quiet reflection on the busy Harvard campus.” The money to build the chapel came from the Class of 1959 during their 25th and 30th anniversaries to honor classmate Harvard Dean John H. McArthur. According to the website, there is an inscription on the wall of the chapel explaining “the purpose of the spiritual site is to ‘make our community complete and remind us for our higher purpose and ideals.’” Cadge said that she found the “plants and water restful.”

The project is also in part a shared project between a host of other sacred space projects around the country including Sacred Space in a Secular Nation of Believers, an exploratory seminar at the Radcliffe Institute and the Multi-Faith Spaces, an online college of case studies, design resources and readings. Cadge and Friedman also worked closely with the late Karla Johnson, AIA of Johnson Roberts Associates. The pursuit of the project was made in Johnson’s memory, according to their website.

As the project continues to grow, Sacred Spaces is “starting a collaboration with Walking Cinema and WBUR to do some radio and video pieces about some of these spaces with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities,” said Cadge in an email.

The National Endowment for the Humanities recently granted $14.8 million in grants on Dec. 12 to support various innovative digital projects for the public, according to a BrandeisNOW article. Cadge’s project received $100,000 is called “Mapping Religious Transformation in Boston’s Hidden Sacred Spaces,” which will fund a location-based app for finding “hidden chapels, meditation spaces, and prayer rooms that people in Boston pass daily but few stop to closely consider.”

Photos of all the hidden spaces that were identified by the project are currently on display in Goldfarb Library on the first floor by the printers.

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