Tremont Street cathedral to get new look

Spiral pediment

Capt. Nemo would appreciate this rendering.

To cap off major renovations, the Cathedral Church of St. Paul is getting a new design for its long vacant pediment: A nautilus shell, which will be lit at night.

The design, by Philadelphia artist Donald Lipski, is scheduled for completion by Oct. 7 - the 100th anniversary of the church's dedication as a cathedral (it opened as a church in 1818). A panel at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design selected Lipski's design:

The Diocese hoped to identify an artist capable of expressing the mission of the church and its contemporary role as a welcoming institution for all without relying on traditional iconography. "Lipski's beautiful and visionary proposal is utterly consistent with St. Paul's longstanding ministry to invite people into the mystery of Christ and echoes Jesus' invitation to followers to 'come and see,' " said The Very Reverend John P. Streit, Jr., Dean.

At night.At night.



Free tagging: 



The Catholics are anti-abortion, remember.

At worst, it's a crucifixion. I don't think it looks so bad. The city has a fixation with gray monotone and something like this jumps out, or at least is in keeping with the bolder, brighter style that's encroaching from the Ritz/AMC portion of the neighborhood.

Either way, good job to the designer. You already have a talker on your hands.

Vast Oversimplification

You left out the part where the Pope decided that the world belonged half to Portugal, half to Spain.

Those with pretensions of empire ... like, Henry and his daughter, Elizabeth ... didn't play that.

As is yours.

The pope helped negotiate peace between Spain and Portugal. At the time those treaties were signed the English still had thumbs planted squarely in asses and were just emerging from the middle ages. They weren't exactly engaging Portugal and Spain for World domination. It's also worth noting that France didn't pay any mind to the treaties and its King didn't feel the need to start his own religion in response to them.

Ignoring Henry's personal desires is foolhardy - you can't sweep it under the rug, no matter how embarrassing it may be.

But, yes, there were political concerns. Including the desire to steal property and tax revenue from the Catholic church.

There were many good faith religious reasons for the Reformation across Europe. And surely Rome alienated many in Northern Europe with its religious edicts. But you do Martin Luther et. al a disservice when you lump them in with the Anglican Church's money and power grab in England.

The St. Pauls Pediment

Your entire discussion, although historically correct, is off the track. Any Christian church, whether Episcopalian or whatever, is supposed to be Christ centered. As a religion, the Church itself should have made the decision about the images that represents that church. This is not what happened. I love the Nautilus images as a design in general, but, regarding its use as a motif for St. Pauls, all I can say is that the judges, who are not members of St. Pauls, have chosen a form that will undoubtedly outlast the havoc that we as human beings always manage to concoct while completely ignoring the human issues as they contrast to the person Jesus was.

Not Catholic or non-Catholic

The Episcopal Church is neither Catholic nor non-Catholic. TEC is the "via media," the middle way. Not Catholic or Protestant, yet some within it consider themselves Anglo Catholics and others think they are Protestant. A diverse bunch of folks, Episcopalians.

You know

Your onto something good when you got over the top haters.
Im not sold on the baby blue background but I like it.

Boston is filled with FUDDY DUDDIES

Let the hating continue below

Beautiful building?

Also, Boston is full of beautiful Episcopal churches, but the Cathedral is not one of them. It's a horrid building that people don't even notice because it looks like a bank. I am glad that the diocese is doing something snazzy. I think it's a great improvement.

Also, if anyone has the chance, walk through the corridor that leads to the church offices. Beautiful mosiac on the ceiling.

That's not the reason people don't notice the building

" It's a horrid building that people don't even notice because it looks like a bank."

That's not the reason people don't notice the building. The reason people don't notice is because they hurry by due to the large amount of sometimes aggressive (and always sloppily intoxicatd) homeless people that congregate around the front and on the steps of the building. They are often arguing loudly with each other. As a result the front area is always very dirty as well.

God forbid

Well, God forbid they're homeless people dirtying up a church. They really should do something about all those poor people hanging around.

Sorry - I guess I'm feeling a bit Swirly-esque this morning. (At any rate, I like the new facade.)

Homeless in front of the church

The problem is not that St. Paul's is welcoming to the homeless population. The problem is that a faction of this population that hovers on the steps and in front of the church behaves agressively.

There is a similar congregating of homeless on Arch Street adjacent to the church there, but that bunch are usually so zonked out on booze, Listerine (yes, Listerine)or other substances that they just sprawl out basically comatose.


I used to run the front desk of the Veteran's Shelter on Court street. It's really dismaying to listen to this kind of opinion.

Hidden church

I agree that it isn't a noticeable building--in part because it's set back from the street a bit, making it a bit hidden, especially when viewing from the Park Street T area.

Although it's contrary to the architectural style of the building, I kind of like the idea of more public art. The blue background doesn't really work, but I think the motivation is worthy. I think whatever artwork is put up shouldn't look like an afterthought.

While I'm not a Christian, I know this is a wonderful faith community that is diverse and does a lot of outreach to people who are homeless. Thanks!

New term needed?

The Greek temples were originally painted in bright reds and blues. It's just that the paint didn't last as long as the stone, so we think of them as dull grey or white. In fact, this blue would not have been out of place.

Perhaps there's a new term needed for adding color to buildings designed upon ancient Greek lines. New Greek Revival?


I think the general scale of the design works really well with the proportions of the facade.
I'm not completely sold on the blue background, as I think it clashes a bit with the warmer tones of the stone, but they may fine tune that as they do the installation.

Same here

I love the nautilus, but the blue looks strange to me against the stone. I'm sitting here trying to think of another color that might work better, but drawing a blank. The best I can come up with is maybe a mother-of-pearl look with some pink to it, but it looks like they're trying to get away from the neutral palette that sort of makes the rest of the building easily overshadowed. Hmm.

Sea green?

I think that would be a bit less jarring and blend with the stone a bit better. The nautilus is nice, especially the night view, but the blue doesn't work with the stone and really screams BLUE in this rendering.


Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you...

The Cathedral's new tympanum design reminds me of Boston native Oliver Wendell Holmes's poem "The Chambered Nautilus"

"Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
Child of the wandering sea...
Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life's unresting sea!"

Shells and buildings do not last. Jesus says: "Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down." Yet, this does not mean that we can't look to the sea for inspiration. I hope this redesign welcomes all who wish to get closer to God.

Thank you for remembering ..

When I found myself meditating on the new design I recalled Oliver Wendell Holmes lovely poem. thank you for sharing its last stanza - I think the design is really quite profound and appropriate for a church community that has been creative in its faithfulness to Jesus' solidarity in love with "outsiders". Think of the Cathedral on the Common (Ecclesia Ministries) which has been a dynamic worshiping community of homeless and street people joined by Christians from churches around Boston celebrating the Eucharist on the Common rain, snow or sun for many years. If you are old enough, recall the Episcopal diocese of Massachusetts early leadership in advocacy for persons living with AIDS. (Some of us remember the boldness of the buttons that were part of that early campaign "OUR CHURCH HAS AIDS".


I think it looks beautiful.

I'm very familiar with that facade and it's always struck me as a little sad--lovely but shabby and overpowered by the newer, taller buildings that surround it (see Virginia Burton's The Little House, a story I can never read without getting a little teary). The new design is refreshing but respectful of the building's fundamental design. Love the nautilus theme too and wonder about the Holmes poem--would love to know whether there was a deliberate intention there.

According to Wikipedia...

You are correct!

"A carving of St. Paul preaching before King Agrippa II was intended to be placed in the pediment over the entrance, but was never executed."

I don't get, though, how a nautilus shell ties in with the church's mission (other than they wanted something more secular), but, hey, at least it adds some interest.

None of the local art schools

None of the local art schools are producing qualified stone carvers or sculptors to implement the originally intended design? So now we have to have some non-local guy stick up some new age crap? The proposed artwork belongs at a concert or the cover of a school textbook not a landmark religious institution.

Sculptor, mason, whatevs

There seem to be plenty of artisanal masons around this area who could do this work. These are people who do all sorts of fancy stonework ... and can do the even fancier sculptural pieces when hired for such.

The Hand that Fashions is Divine...

Some say the shell of the nautilus approximates most beautifully the "Divine Ratio." This natural 1.618 ratio (Phi) forms a theme in architecture, e.g. the spiral staircase.

Boston lies close to the sea. This creature's extraordinary spiral shell shows us the beauty of God's creation. There are countless Biblical allusions to water -- from God's separating the waters from the firmament in the Old Testament to Christ's Baptism and His walking on water in the New...

So, why shouldn't a representation of this ancient cephalopod (known as "the sailor") be used in the architecture of a Boston church building?

Read the caption

Although the building next door looked like a church, it was built to house the Masonic Temple -- hence the name of the adjacent street, Temple Place. A quick look in some old books tells me that by 1865 the Masons had moved to their present site at the corner of Tremont and Boylston Streets; their old temple was used as a U. S. Court House for many years.

Sprucing up the old aunt?

A feather would have knocked me over the day I learned this is the cathedral for the local Episcopal diocese. Trinity struck me as the natural heir for the bishop's seat, not a Greek Revival overwhelmed by secular workaday and very profane office space. Cathedrals were the epitome of a community's physical, intellectual and artistic reach to enter sacred space and time; a Cathedral creates its own space as Trinity does. A building that hunkers down, is overshadowed and seemingly very out of place is fine as a parish church but not as the capital for the denomination's network of churches.

But then I walked into the local Catholic cathedral and realized that aside from size that is also a pretty boring building.

It's interesting that the artistic glory of religious spaces in this town is found in the local neighborhood oriented religious structures.

But then there are my favorite store front churches that have names long enough to circle the earth, end with Inc. and are run by self-appointed bishops and first ladies of the church.


Good God. This is wasted money which could be put to better uses, like helping the poor, etc.

In my opinion, it's also a crummy pretentious design. These people can't even design a decent for themselves, much less redesign an old building.


Given the quality of the rendering it is hard to figure out how this is going to look. I find myself baffled by the design--St. Paul has nothing to do with nautiluses (nautili?). It seems for a cathedral something somehow relevant to the saint would have been more appropriate.

This is sort of just prettifying the facade not adding anything to the church.

The building looks like it's

The building looks like it's missing something. The recessed front wall with the three rectangular doors looks like a warehouse entrance. It looks like they forget to put in windows or carvings - anything to break the monotony.

The art in the pediment is lipstick on a very dull pig.


I don't think you can possibly know the first thing about architecture if you can't see that this is an excellent Greek Revival building. I have heard several people on this thread call it an "ugly" building. It is beyond comprehension.

Whit, apparently the ability

Whit, apparently the ability to appreciate a decent, though understandably worn with time, example of Greek Revival architecture makes one a Boston fuddy duddy, as so aptly put several comments back. If it's not shiny and new, then it should be torn down according to Ikea-enthusiast, made in China, anti-preservationist, non-fuddy duddies.

A terrible waste of valuable resources

This is a complete and utter waste of money. While being touted as the Episcopal Cathedral it is little more that a run down old building with an ever diminishing congregation.

A house of welcome - not quite. You cannot bring your children for fear of being accosted by a mentally-ill homeless person or coming upon a drug deal in the church. I acknowledge that we are called to welcome the homeless as Christ would. There also has to be a level of respect for the safety of others who gather to worship. The mentally ill homeless who are there engage in lewd and unlawful behavior (sex, drugs, destruction of property, theft). There seems to be this laid back approach to personal safety - every man for himself. You cannot even walk the halls along without fear of encountering some mentally unstable person. The cushions on the pews smell of human odor. Why would one spend valuable resources to improve a space most find off-putting for other reasons. Let Trinity be the Cathedral and convert this space to serve some other purpose.

Taken aback

Oh, dear. Phrases such as "mutton dressed as lamb" and "putting new wine into old wineskins" come to mind. Don't get me wrong -- I love the design -- but not dressing up a Greek revival temple.


Donald Lipski replies

Thank you all for your thoughts. Here are some of mine:

St. Paul’s is a house of prayer for all people. So I wanted to find an image, a symbol, that would speak to everyone.

I had the spiral in mind before I ever saw the Cathedral in person. The Greek proportions of St. Paul’s derive from the Golden Rectangle, which in its perfection generates a spiral. The SPIRAL is a universal symbol of the spiritual journey. It’s the blueprint for life itself. Carl Jung saw the spiral as the archetypal symbol of cosmic force.

I came for my first visit on a sparkly day last fall, got there early and took a walk in the Commons to see what it looked like from a distance. Just a little ways across, and with a beautiful view of the church through the trees, I came across a woman who had made a spiral in the leaves and was walking it over and over like a labyrinth. I took that as a sign. We are all on a path. We spiral in toward our center, and venture out again into the world. The spiral is a symbol for the spiritual journey.

The Spiral is the most pervasive shape in the universe. We see it in the divine workings of nature—from the movement of sub-atomic particles to the vastness of galaxies. It evokes thoughts of eternal growth and progression, circling out in ever widening circles.

My sculpture will float in front of a blue panel, which I took from the shield and flag of the Episcopal Church. This is the blue used by artists for centuries for the clothing of Jesus's Mother, Mary. It’s called “Madonna Blue” and represents the human nature of Jesus, which He received from His Mother. And that is so apparent in the spirit at St. Paul’s.

The St. Paul’s spiral is a slice from the shell of The Chambered Nautilus, an amazing creature. It starts it’s life in a tiny shell. As it grows, the nautilus enlarges its shell through the addition of a new, larger, stronger chamber suitable for the next stage of its life. Season by season, these chambers are added, spiraling out with beautiful precision.

Here in Boston, when St. Paul’s was in its infancy, Oliver Wendell Holmes saw the nautilus as a beautiful metaphor for spiritual growth. This is the last stanza of his poem, The Chambered Nautilus:

Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,

As the swift seasons roll!

Leave thy low-vaulted past!

Let each new temple, nobler than the last,

Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,

Till thou at length art free,

Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!


I think the design is great. The colors remind me of the El Greco influenced designs in the tiles and ceiling inside the upper chapel at St. Anthony's on Arch Street, or at least how I remember it. It also makes me think of the nautical influence on this City over time.

Houses of worship over time have always added on based upon then current designs. You don't think they've didn't go back to the drawing board over time with Chartes or St. John the Devine? The altar area in this church was altered from its original design years ago.

One little thing before you get pillored by Cold Roast Boston. The park across the street in the Common, not the Commons. The Commons are where college kids get fed. The Common is where Holmes would go for a walk.

Good luck.

lovely and ethereal come to mind

Thank you for the mindful development of your idea. I'm looking forward to its execution.

I've been homeless (after retaliation for whistleblowing) & have known the utter despair of people no longer seeing me as human, much as is described in these comments. That people are transformed into "aggressive homeless mentally ill odiferous" objects to be held in contempt when they are thought of at all is the norm. That some have the audacity to be seen in public, no less - shocking!

What no one ever says is exactly where it is that we are supposed to go. Certainly out of sight because the public need if for us to be out of mind. Not to worry - the mortality from being homeless is more than 25 years earlier than a normal life span. Those who aren't immediately successful in dying mostly don't take long to catch up and do their duty to keep public spaces sweet smelling and free of needing to scornfully sneer.

Well, with your art transforming the building, maybe more people will pause and look up instead of hurrying past and looking away.


There's always one, isn't there. Friggin' town of pedants...

Daniel thank you for taking the time to come here and explain the work. I can't wait to see the result, golden ratio or not.

I know. Always one.

And, furthermore, the artist did not say that spiral of a nautilus shell was equal to the golden ratio. He did mention the prevalence of the spiral in nature and the shape's spiritual connotations which are both correct and for me, awe inspiring.

Wonderful, thank you for writing this!

My first impression of the design was that it was one of beauty, a beauty that matched the classical elements of the cathedral, and one that dressed up a slightly drab cornice. I liked it from the outset, but I did not think about this any more deeply than my instinctual aesthetic reaction.

It is fascinating to read your underlying thought process, about symbolism, inspiration, and finally the deeper meaning. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, they are much appreciated.

St. Paul's Cathedral Pediment

I appreciate (and am fascinated) by the comments on Donald Lipski's design to finish our pediment, and his explanation of his thinking.

As the Dean of the Cathedral, I would add just a few more things about our hopes and thoughts for finishing this space.
Of course we could have hired a stone mason or traditional sculptor to carve figures in the unfinished blocks of the pediment, and those figures would have quickly receded into the background like all the carvings at the tops of the buildings throughout Boston. We were looking for something that would be beautiful, inviting, inspire a sense of awe and holiness and make us a more noticeable presence on the Common, across from the State House. I believe Donald Lipski's design does all this, and more.

I understand the observation/criticism that it doesn't seem religious, it doesn't immediately suggest anything Christian or Pauline. My response is to note that Jesus was similarly startling and untraditional, and the religious leaders of his time were critical of him for not being religious enough. God is always greater than our religious institutions and understanding, and so it makes sense to me to have something that beckons people, makes them think and wonder, rather than conforms to ideas or images they've already formed. Jesus invited people to become his followers by simply saying, "Come and See", not be identifying himself as the Messiah or detailing his theology. I beleive Donald Lipksi's beautiful, delicate image invites people to come and see.

Finally I would note that this image is deeply and profoundly emblematic of a true spiritual journey. A nautilus shell is created, chamber by chamber, as the nautilus outgrows its current living space and creates a new, larger chamber. That process is repeated, again and again, until the nautilus dies. It is always expanding, moving into a new space, and never retreating, going back into the old. That's the journey God invites us all into, and this design captures it brilliantly. The best part is you can appreciate the grace and beauty of this design without knowing any of this.

The Nautilus Pediment

I'm going to say this as loud and clear as possible. Jesus was all about people. This Nautilus, as interesting as it is, shirts the central issue of what Jesus' life truly represents and what the faith is all about. You could have had a genuine expression that represented the true faith. You just weren't up to it. Don't kid yourself. If you want further clarification, see my website at:

Sour grapes?

Mr. Johnston, you seem like a very talented artist. But this comment here and your others sound more like sour grapes. Are you mad they didn't choose you?

Do you even live in Boston, Mr. Johnston? Do you even live in New England? Are you a member of the St. Paul's congregation? Are you even an Episcopalian? It seems remarkably cheeky for you to tell someone else their church is doing it wrong.

What's next, Mr. Johnston? Will you ride into the church and start burning people for their hereticism?

Barry's from Baltimore

Don't know if you had the chance to look at the religious subsection of his site, but it's a bit, um, on the nose. The sculpture of St. Francis with the lines of doves flying from his arms, for example, seems a bit too Thomas Kinkade/Disney for St. Paul's purposes.

His other work is somewhat devoid of abstract thought, save perhaps Tree Of Life or Freedom From War. Even in those works, however, Mr. Johnston seems incapable of expressing an overarching theme without routinely falling back on the same gaunt human form. Given his body of religious works, Mr. Johnston's main qualm seems to be that there's no humanity in the nautilus design.

Conversely, I think that lack of singular human faces and forms in the nautilus is its strongest attribute. It invites all and interprets a concept that supposed to be beyond human comprehension. Dumbing it down to rote iconography would drain the work of its power. Criticizing it based on one person's interpretation of what Jesus is "all about" is myopic and representative of the exact opposite worldview the nautilus design puts forth.

I wish Mr. Johnston the best of luck with his career. Undoubtedly, fans of his work will keep buying those souvenirs from "participating galleries."

This accusation is amazing.

This accusation is amazing. I am an Episcopalian from Baltimore, MD. Your accusation implies that I have no right to an opinion on this matter. You are right. My work was completely ignored from the onset of this process. The committee that made this choice was also not from the St. Pauls Cathedral community. It was a secular committee representing the larger art community of Boston. Where do you get the idea that artists have no levity over truth, including me? The value of our art including mine is in its authenticity. To gain an anchor in truth, yes, I rely on the Scriptures. Yes, I'm disappointed watching the decline of solid values in our society and economy. But that doesn’t make me a conservative. It certainly doesn’t make me a people burner. Certainly, you are right that compassion is the deepest among values that should be our primary concern, if that’s what you meant - “If we have not charity, all is but sounding cymbals ...” - I Corinthian 13. Accusing me of wanting to burn people is simply amazing. You wouldn’t do that in my face. If somehow I have failed to show you and your community an adequate concern for compassion over this matter, thank you for your feedback. Certainly, compassion is a value that is being reflected in St. Paul’s commitment to the homeless as it is with my church’s work with the homeless. But how is this mission of mercy reflected in your chosen Nautilus motif?

Lack of levity

You are indeed giving me the impression that artists have no levity. I'd say you sound thoroughly irritable and resentful.

And you are confirming quite clearly that the principal problem you have with the chosen design is jealousy.

Perhaps you are right and it is a foolish design. If its choice shames the wise, I'm all for it.

You seem to be such an expert

You seem to be such an expert on the affairs of others. Have you no interest in looking into your own heart or do you think that's what you are doing by continuing to insult me. Like many caring people nowadays, I'm simply tired of being brutally manipulated by elitists and supremists like yourself. Read my book called As We Sow to learn more about my views on appreciating the beauty in abstraction. Abstraction is the thinking process we enjoy but only the very elite are allowed to indulge themselves in such callous behavior. In any case, go ahead, you have the last word. I'm done with this. Thank you.

Elitists and supremists like myself

Will never tire of brutally manipulating you. Bwa ha ha

It's is all one big conspiracy. First we callously ignored your incredible contributions to sculpture and architecture. Now we aren't even publishing your brilliant insights. It's your caring that offends us, really.

You are so very intelligent to have figured this out, but it won't help you at all in the face of our callous abstraction.

Oh, and we had a party and didn't tell you, too.

Not the place

Sure, a nautilus is indeed a marvel of nature that may well symbolize religious journey, but it has no place on a landmark building this significance. Designed by Alexander Parris, for God's sake!
Meeting a contemporary need with an old building requires a very deft, light hand. Alas, such is not the case here. All of Boston should mourn over this. No disrespect to Mr. Lipski intended; he was just the poor buggger who was selected by the committee (a stacked deck if I ever saw one).
Rather, I would ask the Diocese to think long & hard about what they chose to ask for in the first place. Why? Why do it? Why contemporary? Why not involve those whose expertise charges them with the protection and preservation of important historic buildings? Why, why, why?